Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Observations and Misconception about the road to Musical Composition (Self Taught or Academia)

Over the months and years I have been browsing around various composition forums I have noticed various observations and misconceptions made about composers and how they have learned their skills, either self taught or through formal training.
So I ask you these questions;

What are some of the misconception you have heard or have been told about the method of learning you went through on your compositional journey?

Where do you think these misconceptions come from?

What are a few of the truths that contradict these notions?

And if you have an opinion;

What method of learning you do feel is more beneficial?
Or
Do you feel the both methods are equally effective? Why are Why not?

I ask these question mainly to help clear misconceptions about how people learn composition, to help younger and newer composers make a better informed choice in there compositional journey, and mostly, out of curiosity of my fellow composers and musician’s opinions.

Views: 552

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Compare Bob Dylan to Ennio Morricone... What do you think is the great difference? ... Come On!!!

Ario

P.s.: I like Bob Dylan... but, come on!!!
I am not asking you to compare the great musicians of our time. I am asking you to dispel misconceptions that one might have about the route you took to become a composer be it through higher education or self motivation. And, I am asking you, and only if you have an opinion, to compare whether or not one is more beneficial or if they both have an equal amount of pros and cons making them both equally effective.
I ask this to help dispel misconceptions that I have seen people make (especially on this forum) about the method in which people develop their compositional skills. And I ask out of curiosity to what my fellow composer thinks on the subject.
Can a University teach you to be a great composer ?

Can somebody whom is academically bright and musically trained be coached to produce great music. ?

Depends on the definition of "great" of course.

My feeling is that a University can turn out a competent composer who can write music, in terms of putting together the instruments on the page.

But the mistake made in the c.v round up of "Phd in composition, Harvard" is that the musical portfolio of the "doctor of composition" may leave most listeners cold.

And the trouble is that most "great" music has moved people by the thousands, if not millions. You can't necessarily teach that on a Phd course.

The idea that somebody with a Phd in composition has mastered and achieved true greatness rather than just competence in their art is one of the most obvious misconceptions.

And for that reason when I hear the musical output of some modern-day academic "masters" I do wonder what the whole enterprise was all about...
But on the other hand I'm not against the study of music compostion...it's just that I sometimes wish it was less self-serving.

But how do you achieve this ? Perhaps a module or component where the composer has to prove an ability to write in a conventional idiom.

After all, a composer should perhaps have to prove their ability to write a variety of styles.
....but at the moment too many academic "masters" seem to be able to write in only their own esoteric, self-serving language.
What are some of the misconception you have heard or have been told about the method of learning you went through on your compositional journey?

One misconception that most people have of the academia composer is that universities turn out snobby, over thought-out, and pretentious composer that only a select few will appreciate (mainly professors and other college graduates). That we leave college with no idea of the real world and with no real life skills to make it as a working composer. This, though has some truth behind it, is mostly false now.

Where do you think these misconceptions come from?
This misconception comes from how composition, and most creative art forms, were taught back then. The 50s-70s was a time of what I like to call musical exclusivity. This was an era were most of the academic music world taught composers to write in one style, with one mind set, and if you didnt conform to this your career in music was over before it began. If yall remember your music history, Copland was not at all regarded as a good composer for years because he didnt conform to this idea.
Today, this mentality is, I would say, 70% gone from the academia world. This is due to the realization with in colleges that students need life skills more then usless knowledge and the increase popularity of young composers wanting to be film composers. That and the increase of students is forcing most music program to adapt, no matter how reluctant they are. However there are a few exceptions that still hold fast to the mentality of the 50s and 70s.

What are a few of the truths that contradict these notions?
The truth of the matter is, most composition programs are less about the theory you learn or the techniques you develop in your training. Today, its about developing the skills needed to be a successful and versatile composer; this is the case for an increasing number of universities and colleges, however this is a slow process that is mostly found in smaller and lesser known colleges, which might lead one to think that the their creativity will be snuffed out.

And if you have an opinion;

What method of learning you do feel is more beneficial?
Or
Do you feel the both methods are equally effective? Why are Why not?

I do feel that learning from academia is more beneficial FOR SOME. Will you learn more theory in college, no, not with the amount of resources that are available to you online these days. Will you learn more music history, probably not, Wikipedia is more accurate these days anyways. What you get out of it is the experience, the connections, and the valuable friends that will be there assisting you on your journey through the world of composition.
Like I said, its for some. If you have a pension for not making friends or connections, or if you already have the connection you need, then going to college will be a waste of your time. I have seen many college composition students just go through the passes and now after graduation do nothing with their degree and are stuck in a dead end job that has nothing to do with music of any kind.
If you have plans on going to College, plan on going for the long haul, that means PhD (because a bachelor's in music composition will get you no where and with a PhD at least you have the option of teaching). Plan on improving your social skills and making the connections that matter. Plan on using the resources at said college and plan on making some yourself. If this sounds above your capabilities this college will be a waste of time and money and you will do better being self taught.
Another Misconception about the academia world is that we are taught how to compose. This misconception is so widely thought of as true that even people in the high education systems make this assumption.

This thinking comes from the fact that most other studies of music are taught. You are taught to play an instrument or sing, you are taught theory, you taught music history. However, music composition is not something you are taught. This misconception is only heighten with recent books hitting the market with misleading titles such as "How to Compose Music" and "Music Composition for Dummies". Thought with in the text of these books it is clear that these books are learning aids to assist in the compositional process, the titles lead the reader to think they from nothing a person can become a composer regardless of how creative and imaginative they are or lacking.

This is not a amateur misconception, in fact it happens all to often. Every year (at least at my school) many people apply to the compositional program. Out of those people a hand full of applicants think that this would be an interesting career move with little to no previous musical training (either by themselves or formally). their plans are soon squashed when due to not providing a portfolio that shows your style, not being able to even enter into the music school due to lack of or sub par musical skills, or not even having a grasp of the basics of music, be it able to read music, able to tell the difference between different pitches or have any musical talent of any kind (yes people who are completely tone deaf often apply to a college music program). Those who do make it in for one reason or another are quick to find out that a composition professor will not teach them how to compose and they usually leave the program.
One misconception that most people have of the academia composer is that universities turn out snobby, over thought-out, and pretentious composer that only a select few will appreciate (mainly professors and other college graduates). That we leave college with no idea of the real world and with no real life skills to make it as a working composer. This, though has some truth behind it, is mostly false now.

If that is false, where is are the modern composers who, having benefited from a degree in composition, are dearly loved by the general public, and whose works sell CDs in their hundreds of thousands ?

How many are making a living out of actually selling their music to the public (sell-out concerts, CDs etc) as opposed to earning a salary in an academic role and making a bit of money from art-council funded commissions ?

Isn't it easier to find those who have supposedly "mastered" the art of composition but can't find a way of reaching out to anything but a select few ?

For that reason, I can't really see the change from the days of excessive modernism and experimentalism in the 1950s.
Good topic.

I think it depends on 2 things.

1 : the individual and how commited he/she is to learning (passion levels).

2 : the teacher.


I went to Uni to study music and have never had a more boring experience. I had to leave in the end as I was not getting what I wanted from the course (due to exceptionally dull lecturers). So in my case only one of the criteria was fulfilled ie the 'willing learner'

Much as you (Tyler) may slate the 'Composition for Dummies' etc books....they represent a source of knowledge which with the right pupil will reap many rewards. If the pupils brain is hungry to absorb knowledge and passionate about learning a book like this will reap great rewards as the person lecturing the content is the reader who has a passion to absorb the knowledge. (Obviously learning is an ongoing process...I am not suggesting you read a book and hey presto understudy to John Williams :) )

I believe Copland studied under Mms Boulanger who also taught Quincy Jones and a host of others. With this mix of student who is hungry and exceptionally talented and teacher who fills you with confidence and inspiration the best combination is met!


So basically I think the most effective/beneficial method is 'either' as long as pupil is hungry and teacher is inspirational.
I should have qualified my use of the term "popular".

I mean not "pop", but say appreciated by a majority of those who attend classical or jazz concerts on a regular basis or are active in some other field, like playing, composing, etc. -ie a musically "educated" (I hate that word) audience.

How many people are writing music that appeals to these people ? - people like you and me perhaps.

And before you say "I might like it, you not, etc", I'm talking about the sort pieces which nearly everybody here would appreciate even if not their first choice.

Who is around today who is writing the modern day equivalent of a Rachmaninov concerto, a romantic symphony, or even a great piece like Rhapsody in Blue ?

I'd say that in these terms, university degrees and postgrads in composition are pretty bad value for money.
And I repeat my previous question of "can a degree/ post-grad in composition necessarily produce a great composer ?"

Maybe greatness in the arts is something innate and not taught, and that's the fundamental misconception of courses in composition in themselves.
I think you have misconstrued what is the main goal of a composer who is studying with a university and what makes them successful. The goal of most composers isnt to sell CDs to a general public or to have sold out arena concerts. For most, the goal is a personal one, some just want to make music that they like while others find that success is the act of hearing there music performed by others. One cant measure success by public opinion especially in music.
The reason you most likely havent heard of any composers making it big is because you are not looking in the right places. You wont see composers today in the popular music realm or on a popular radio channel, because that is not the genre people want to hear. Though, a composer is most likely the one who wrote the music most pop stars are singing, a concert score is not something most people want to hear, even if that score is something that is accessible to the listener. Concert music lacks the sex appeal that most popular music has in one form or another. It also lack the familiarity that most popular music has. People like predictable music, any music that isnt predictable becomes to much for the average listener.
On the subject of the average listener, the reason you havent heard much modern music is because of the whims of the public. The average Joe hasnt heard a orchestra live, or seen an instrument in person. Mozart is foreign to him/her so you can imagine what modern music is to the average listener.

You mentioned earlier about if they taught composers to write in a more conventional style it would be better. What you dont know is that they do. Most if not all composers that go through the high education system have the ability to write music that is accessible and general public friendly. There are even composers in the academia world that write this was primarily. Why you dont hear more of it is based on the individuals composers taste and ascetics. Some just choose not to write in the manner.

To sum up what I am trying to say, the only real way to know why this is a misconception is to have gone through the process. I understand where this misconception comes from because there was a time that this was true, but today that is just not the case. This is truely a case of "Looking in from the outside". On the surface, this does look like a bunch of music snobs saying to themselves "how can we make music even more harsh and un-listenable" while they experiment with sounds to make them even more unpleasant. but if one was to study and listen to the modern music of today, meet the composers who wrote it, asked them questions about it, watch the reaction of the audience that is there, even understand the audiece that is there (because it is a different kind of people who attend these concerts) and repeated the process again again and again, one will find out that that is not the case at all. And that there is success to be had in this type of music, however different from conventional success that is found in popular music.

Adrian Allan said:
One misconception that most people have of the academia composer is that universities turn out snobby, over thought-out, and pretentious composer that only a select few will appreciate (mainly professors and other college graduates). That we leave college with no idea of the real world and with no real life skills to make it as a working composer. This, though has some truth behind it, is mostly false now.

If that is false, where is are the modern composers who, having benefited from a degree in composition, are dearly loved by the general public, and whose works sell CDs in their hundreds of thousands ?

How many are making a living out of actually selling their music to the public (sell-out concerts, CDs etc) as opposed to earning a salary in an academic role and making a bit of money from art-council funded commissions ?

Isn't it easier to find those who have supposedly "mastered" the art of composition but can't find a way of reaching out to anything but a select few ?

For that reason, I can't really see the change from the days of excessive modernism and experimentalism in the 1950s.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Sign up info

Read before you sign up to find out what the requirements are!

Store

© 2021   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service