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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. 

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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.  

Hi eboats,

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,

Gav

eboats,

     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. 

Thanks for this.  I work in Sibelius and tend to write music that results in a lot of time signature changes.  However, during the writing process in Sibelius, I like to work with tempo and feel, and not worry about notating time sig changes initially because otherwise I tend to have to change all that later when I've got the feel/spacing more figured out.   Once I'm basically done with the piece, then I go back and put in time sig changes.

I'm wondering if others do something similar?  Basically, I'm trying to figure out how to work most efficiently, because I find if I get too caught up in time sig notation early, I create a lot of extra work for myself later when I need to add more or less spacing/rests and that can throw off the time sigs. 

I've heard Dorico lets you work a bit more freely, so maybe that would help?



Lawrence Aurich said:

eboats,

     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.

One solution Ive found to "cleanse ones ears" of the piece you're working on MUCH sooner is to work on 1 or 2 other pieces when composing, and its best if they're different instruments. For example right now I have a string quartet, woodwind quartet and long piano work all open at the same time in various versions of the software I use, and I bounce back and forth as desired.

Ive found that when I feel tired and would usually quit, I can go to one of the other pieces, and feel renewed, and am able to compose for much longer periods of time. Also if the composing gets too difficult on one piece I simply bounce to another

I also have found at times, like others here,  that there should be a break between phrases etc, and its accomplished quite easily by adding a beat or two to that measure, and either leaving it silent, or an an upbeat at the end to the next measure/phrase..whatever the music calls for. This can be helped in Sibelius with the "Split Bar", followed by the "Time Signatures for Irregular bars"and "Draw Free Rhythm Barline" plugins, among others methods and then adding beats at the end.

(and dont be afraid to experiment with phrases that DON'T get the "required" space within them, but by character provide the needed relief.)

I also highly recommend looking at the whole composition process as being EXTREMELY fluid, where the first measures written doesnt have to stay at the beginning, and the order of measures can be very easily judged if they should be changed before actually changing it. Leave intros if needed til last, etc.

And again Id look for a plugin along the lines of "Time Signatures for Irregular bars" on Sibelius to greatly help with filling in time signatures later on.

I've heard Dorico lets you work a bit more freely, so maybe that would help?

For my money what Sibelius has become since version 8 is a horrible disgrace, with the bugs, questionable features, and subscription plan and Dorico really seems where everyone should or will be heading. YMMV of course, and its a discussion for another time and place, as Im sure there will be many differing opinions..

Good luck with your composing!

Thanks Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

I have the luxury of writing for the fun of it. Well, except for writing music for the play my daughter is directing, I have no deadlines. Never the less, I hash through things quickly. Though I often spend much time listening to a few measures over and over, until it is right. By the time I reach the end, I'm done. I rarely go back later and change anything. But because most of my music is not for anything in particular, I can borrow freely from myself later, if I need to. 

My point is that I often listen to what I have written many times. Why? Is it so great? Who knows:) Sometimes I will wonder why I did a certain thing. Sometimes I think about what I would do differently the next time. I listen to my own stuff the same way I listen to any music. I ask myself what I like about it. What don't I like? And why.

I don't write anything with many meter changes. I can't speak to that. I have played pieces with lots of meter changes and found myself so worried about them that I wasn't able to enjoy playing the piece as much as I should have. But that might just be lack of skill as a musician. If I can't dance to it....

I seem to remember something about analysis of P.D.Q. Bach's dance music showing that one of his legs was shorter than the other. Not sure what that has to do with anything, Sorry.

Hi Eboats,
Nice to see you back.
I don't know if this will help you, but have you tried putting in a time signature of something like 80/1 into Sibelius and writing in the usual semis , quavers and crotchets etc. This way, you could probably write quite a bit before you come up to a bar line.

Thanks for all the tips.   Basically, I want to notate freely without barlines/time sigs when composing and then go back and put that in later when the piece is closer to completion, so will try that approach with the 80/1 idea or plugins. 

I was reading that Dorico supports this open meter workflow out of the box, and is one of the unique ways they're distinguishing themselves from the competition.  But I guess it just takes a bit more work/hacking in Sibelius.

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