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For various reasons I never studied composition as my major in undergrad or graduate (it was piano performance). How can one obtain the same knowledge and skill on his own that he would have in such a program? I lack the confidence that I know what I'm doing; sometimes I think I'm a good composer, and sometimes (especially nowadays) I think I have no idea what I'm doing and more knowledgeable composers would have to chuckle at my work.

In my specific case, I've studied basic 20th century harmony such as the 12-tone method, quartal/quintal, secondal, set theory (though I don't know how one would efficiently apply it in the composition process), group theory. I've studied many scores (mostly before 1950, since modern ones are hard to obtain), esp for orchestra, with recordings. I've worked with orchestra and small groups on arrangements of very traditional music. I've tried to compose novel music, but it turns out quite already-done-before (see my very John Adams A Peek into a Boson for example). 

Are there particular texts that are definitive or very helpful on the process of modern composition, and how one applies the theory efficiently? Are there ear training exercises needed before one can be fluent in modern harmonic language? Specific questions currently in my mind are:

1. I'm used to first hearing things in my mind, then composing from there. But how does one compose complex harmonies that are hard to hear? It is easy to compose a 5-minute piece with traditional harmonies in just a few minutes or a few hours. Should a good composer have such a strong ear in 10-pitch-class harmonies for example that he finds it that easy to compose with it? Do you choose a pitch hierarchy (a tonic, a chord, a synthetic scale) around which you can have ornamentation and passing tones?

2. How does a composer choose a specific musical language for a piece, and then stay consistent with it? Do you choose certain intervalic content for the harmony first, and then (say you're writing polyphonically) make sure the vertical interaction of the voices creates those harmonies and not others? How does one quantify the non-harmonic aspects of the language, such as length of phrases, melodic contours, and things that I haven't even thought of consciously considering perhaps?

3. Do the composition process and techniques vary widely from one contemporary composer to the next, so that it can't really be standardized into a text book?

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Fun analysis, Bob, I didn't notice the sustain, but I hear it now.

I just noticed the soprano only has 8 different notes in the excerpt: all notes from C5 to F#5, and A4. And true they avoid triads, and pretty much any thing that implies a triad.

Hi Joel--yes the sustain give it its special character, and again avoiding any semblance of older tonal music is done throughout. 

Its a nice example of what can be accomplished  with not very complicated materials/techniques. with the total end result definitely sounding "new".

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

  'Its a nice example of what can be accomplished  with not very complicated materials/techniques. with the total end result definitely sounding "new".


Well said Bob, a reminder that the 'new' does not have to have complicated justifications in order to create it, sometimes all you need is a liberated state of mind, imagination and a minimal technical trigger. BTW Bob, I sensed that unhindered freedom when I was listening to some of your piano music the other day, you are singing "free as a bird" (Tippett).

Thanks Mike--on both counts:)

https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

I read what you said . I can understand where your coming from . I guess now your finished with school so the possibility of a public performance of your works is unlikely unless you have lots of contacts . The list below shows what mediums you should be able to write in but when I look at it I find some of them uninteresting in my old age. However I listened to your works and liked A peek into the boson it had nice timing and flow. Maybe I say this because I'm 70 and started really late but I would write in a style I liked and identified with. I listen to types of music intensely and enjoy but don't feel them in a compositional  way. I write more conservatively from what I  listen to . I find enough theory material on the web to keep me going forever but take 1 1/2 hr lessons every two weeks . This works for me anyway . Keep looking at different material and I think your answer will come to you . Your pieces are good to me Best of luck Bob      

Thanks, Bob. Makes sense; I've been thinking, if I'm going to find my particular "voice", then it certainly needs to be something I really like and really believe in.

Bob Forrest said:

I read what you said . I can understand where your coming from . I guess now your finished with school so the possibility of a public performance of your works is unlikely unless you have lots of contacts . The list below shows what mediums you should be able to write in but when I look at it I find some of them uninteresting in my old age. However I listened to your works and liked A peek into the boson it had nice timing and flow. Maybe I say this because I'm 70 and started really late but I would write in a style I liked and identified with. I listen to types of music intensely and enjoy but don't feel them in a compositional  way. I write more conservatively from what I  listen to . I find enough theory material on the web to keep me going forever but take 1 1/2 hr lessons every two weeks . This works for me anyway . Keep looking at different material and I think your answer will come to you . Your pieces are good to me Best of luck Bob      

Thanks, Bob. Makes sense; I've been thinking, if I'm going to find my particular "voice", then it certainly needs to be something I really like and really believe in.

It makes sense to me again to listen to as much 'modern music' as you can and make notes--even snippets of scores if desired-- along with small labelled recordings of examples of what compositional techniques/gestures of which pieces appeal to you, and then make a conscious effort to understand and include them into your voice.

Its a very exciting process, discovering the new techniques, and hearing your own voice start to sing, and hold its own with"the big boys"-those who one admires so much, and whose music appeals so much. :)

Youtube is a treasure trove of new music recordings, many with scores. When you search for something add "w/ score" to your search term to see which scores with recordings are available.

For example, this search is for piano with scores:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Piano+w%2F+score

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

I introduce a radical concept. There is a loveliness about the physical appearance of musical notes in scores, and that this can be a driver, or at least an influencer of composition. In other words, an interesting-looking score may be a sign of good composition. That’s my heresy!

I think this is true to an extent! I think standard notation doesn't make the patterns as directly apparent as other representations, such as a typical MIDI piano roll. And then you would also want to capture the nuances of dynamics and instrument timbre changes if you wanted to capture all of the musicality as well... which also brings us to the part performers play in the composition -- they compose a bit too, on the more detailed level most of which would not be the types of nuances that would be notated. Anyway I'm starting to ramble. Interesting thought though.

Gav Brown said:

I introduce a radical concept. There is a loveliness about the physical appearance of musical notes in scores, and that this can be a driver, or at least an influencer of composition. In other words, an interesting-looking score may be a sign of good composition. That’s my heresy!

Very good. I want to do this.

Bob Morabito said:

Thanks, Bob. Makes sense; I've been thinking, if I'm going to find my particular "voice", then it certainly needs to be something I really like and really believe in.

It makes sense to me again to listen to as much 'modern music' as you can and make notes--even snippets of scores if desired-- along with small labelled recordings of examples of what compositional techniques/gestures of which pieces appeal to you, and then make a conscious effort to understand and include them into your voice.

Its a very exciting process, discovering the new techniques, and hearing your own voice start to sing, and hold its own with"the big boys"-those who one admires so much, and whose music appeals so much. :)

Youtube is a treasure trove of new music recordings, many with scores. When you search for something add "w/ score" to your search term to see which scores with recordings are available.

For example, this search is for piano with scores:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Piano+w%2F+score

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

An example

Attachments:

Thank you Mike H. and Gregorio for posting modern composer lists, very helpful, there are a number of them I need to listen to.

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