Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Your composition teacher / How you taught yourself to compose

I’m doing research on composition pedagogy for my bibliography and research class, and I wanted to get some general anecdotal data about how you were taught composition or how you taught yourself composition.

Answer the following questions. They will be broken up into three parts; first part is general questions about how you started, second part is for those who went one to study composition with a private teacher at a university or with a individual teacher, third part is for those who have never had a teacher.

 

General questions:

  1. When did you start studying or playing music?
  2. When did you start composing and why?
  3. How do you write your music (do you use notation software, hand written scores, or in sequencers such as DAW and samplers).

 

Composers who had teachers (i.e. you had a composition professor or a private teacher who taught you composition as oppose to music teachers that allowed you to compose. I have to be very specific):

  1. When did you begin taking composition lessons?
  2. Where you required to present a portfolio or some kind of evidence of your composition prior to beginning your lessons?
  3. Where did you take composition lessons (what university or what region of the world i.e. hometown or country)
  4. What were your composition lessons like (how were they structured, what did you do in them, how long were they)
  5. What was your composition teacher like (did they allow you to write what you want or did they give you assignments like “what in this style” or “write for this ensemble or instrumentation” etc.)
  6. Where your composition lessons a positive or negative experience?

 

Composers who are self-taught (i.e. you had no private or group lessons for specifically composition, aside from a composition based assignment in a music class or ensemble):

  1. Was the decision to go without a composition teacher a conscious decision or a decision out of circumstance? Explain?
  2. What are some of the challenges you have faced being self-taught?
  3. What do you believe some of the strengths are to being self-taught?
  4. What are some of the perceptions you have about taking composition lessons (what do you think it would be to take composition lessons)
  5. Do you think taking composition lessons would be a benefit or a detriment to your composition process? why?

Views: 1885

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I notice you said something that a few others had said when directly answering the survey and its something I would like to touch on more in my research. 
In your response you say things like: 

  • "To explore things that might have been consciously or otherwise excluded from consideration because theory says it's a bad idea.  Being able to develop my "inner voice" without being deterred from a direction that a teacher might have discouraged from exploring, due to bias or theoretical grounds or other reasons."
  • "Prescriptive teaching can happen in any context -- a classical composition teacher insisting on following classical norms to the letter, or a modern composition teacher insisting that anything that sounds classical is not "modern enough", etc.. That would be utterly discouraging and extremely frustrating, and would easily turn me away from music altogether."

These statements have been made one way or another by the majority of those who fall on the "self-taught" side that I have spoken to here and on other forums. I want to know how you came to those conclusions: was it from first hand experience, second hand accounts, historical research on your end, or an assumption? When did these conclusions come forth and what prompted you to feel this way about composition teachers? 

Part of my research is understanding why someone would intentionally forgo taking composition lessons and you and many other seem to be hitting a similar beat. Now Im trying to find that source. 

H. S. Teoh said:

General questions:

1) I started playing / studying music around 13-14 when my childhood hatred of music somehow transformed into an intense driving interest.

2) I started composing around the same time (roughly around age 15) after hearing Beethoven's 6th symphony on a friend's new car stereo at the time, and being so utterly blown away that I decided I wanted to become a composer.

3) I started with pencil-and-paper, and lots of tinkering at the piano... but nowadays I use notation software (Lilypond) and a bunch of hand-written scripts to generate MIDI renderings. My goal, though, is to write for real performers.

I'm a composer who's self-taught, so I'll answer the second set of questions:

1) It was a matter of circumstances. When I was a kid my dad wanted to teach me piano but I hated music at the time and he gave up before I finished grade 1. By the time my interest was kindled, I was already too busy with school work and school-related activities and there was simply no time to add on a music class.

2) Challenges of being self-taught: no one to guide my learning to ensure an adequate general background in music covering all the basics; as a result I have large gaping holes in my musical knowledge where most people would already at least have learned some fundamentals.  One of the most challenging issues is being unable to sight-read a score, which has been a great hindrance oftentimes.

3) Strengths to being self-taught: being unconstrained by existing interpretations and theories of music allows me (and I believe others in similar circumstances) to rediscover things that may have been regarded as already done and over with, but with a new angle or insight into it. To explore things that might have been consciously or otherwise excluded from consideration because theory says it's a bad idea.  Being able to develop my "inner voice" without being deterred from a direction that a teacher might have discouraged from exploring, due to bias or theoretical grounds or other reasons.

4) When I was young and opinionated I used to think taking composition lessons would "kill" my inner creativity. Now that I'm older and more mellow, though, I realize that all it would have done would be to broaden my horizons... I didn't need to let it (or anything else) "kill" my inner creativity, whatever that means. But of course, a lot of this also depends on how the class is taught.  The prescriptive method of teaching prevalent in music (at least where I was from) probably would kill my creativity. But obviously that doesn't apply everywhere.

5) It depends on how it's taught. If it's taught in a prescriptive way it probably would be very detrimental. But if taught in a way of broadening my horizons, I think it would be very helpful indeed.  Prescriptive teaching can happen in any context -- a classical composition teacher insisting on following classical norms to the letter, or a modern composition teacher insisting that anything that sounds classical is not "modern enough", etc.. That would be utterly discouraging and extremely frustrating, and would easily turn me away from music altogether.  A more encouraging way of teaching would be to take a student's current output, whatever genre/style/etc it may be in, and provide constructive critique, suggest alternative avenues, interact with the student to determine the effect desired vs. what was actually achieved, and how to bridge the gap, etc., that would be extremely encouraging and helpful.  Of course, that also demands far more work on the part of the teachers, and while it's understandable that few would be willing to invest this kind of effort in a student, I also maintain that anything less is a disservice, and if one wishes to be a teacher (or music or otherwise!), that's the standard one ought to aim for.

I have the same question for you has I had for H.S. Your answer to number 3 in the self taught section suggest that you feel a composition teacher might impose some constraints or "correctness" to your music. Where does this conclusion come from? I notice you mentioned that you saw friends become very restricted in their styles, were they composers or just musicians in general. If they were composers, what years did they take lessons and where? And did they tell you about their lessons, if so what did they tell they were like?

T.T. Gaudynski said:

First and foremost - Congratulations Dr. Hughes!  I hope you get some time now to work on the things that you want to work on.

My responses are as follows:

General questions:

  1. I started in in 6th or 7th grade, playing in a church handbell choir – that is where I learned to read music. I moved on to saxophone during my junior year of high school. I branched out into other instruments after college -irish whistle, mandolin and related instruments, irish concertina, piano, and most recently drums. Aside from a semester in a high school “winds and percussion” group beginners class, all of my musical activity, including composition has been self taught.

  2. I had wanted to compose ever since grade school. I did not start, however, until I was in my mid 40s. It was my purchase of a DAW that opened the door to composition for me. I initially bought the DAW to play around with multi track recording of the various instruments that I play. I quickly discovered that the DAW had a basic on board orchestral VST and also several options for composing including note entry on a staff or direct recording through a keyboard interface. One day, I jotted down a little woodwind trio that did not sound half bad to my ears. I then started actively composing soon afterwards. Oddly enough, now that I have the ability to compose and produce rough recordings of my compositions, my interest in playing instruments has taken a back seat. After performing as part of the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra for 20 years, I recently stepped to down to free up my limited time to focus more heavily on composition. So far no regrets.

  1. I compose using a DAW & VSTs and only use separate notation software when I need to produce a respectable looking score. My specific method varies – if I am writing something that is slow and “spacey” I will basically improvise and record the parts via the keyboard. If I want something more structured and more technical than my limited keyboard skills permit, I compose using the staff & note entry function of the DAW. I would say that 30% of my composition is done via improvisation on the keyboard and 70% is done via note entry.

 

Composers who had teachers 

  1. NA

  2. NA

  3. NA

  4. NA

  5. NA

  6. NA

 

Composers who are self-taught:

  1. My decision to go without a composition teacher was a decision out of circumstance. Music has always been a hobby but not a profession. Once college was done, between work and raising a family, I never had time to pursue any formal musical education.

  2. I would say that most of all, my lack of formal musical education has limited my ability to structure my pieces and to fully develop and draw out the musical ideas that I have. I have been able to learn enough theory for my purposes, but I believe that I would benefit from a better understanding of how to develop and structure a piece. Aside from that, I dont feel particularly limited or constrained by a lack of formal training.

  3. Being self taught, I have had the freedom to focus my attention on whatever aspects of music caught my attention and likewise had the freedom to experiment with ideas that may be considered “wrong” in a more formal setting. It is a double sided coin – on the one hand, I feel somewhat constrained in my ability to structure my pieces. On the other hand, I dont feel bound to observe specific conventions – in that regard, ignorance of the rules is bliss.

  1. A good number of my friends are formally trained musicians, a few of them have advanced degrees. For some of those folks (not all), it appears to me that much of the joy, wonderment and curiosity of music seems to be gone for them. Their approach seems to be strictly limited to the conventions that they learned, and their tolerance for anything outside of the norm is limited. I have always thought that to be a terrible shame and have thus been somewhat wary of formalized instruction. I would definitely benefit from learning more about the mechanics, but would probably chafe a bit when asked to compose something “in the style of.......”

  2. Overall, I do believe that I would benefit from composition lessons for the purposes of learning more about the mechanics (theory, structure, development, orchestration, etc).

I don't really have the time to get into details here, but as a broad answer to Tyler's enquiries about the perception that composition (or other music) lessons would be too restrictive or constricted, etc., I would say that such a perception comes as the culmination of various other sources, which may or may not be fully justifiable.  First of all, let me state again that this is a perception, and does not necessarily reflect reality. But perceptions can be important because students, esp. young students, tend to follow perception rather than fact, since they often don't know better.

My impression of music lessons from my youth was primarily shaped by observing my cousins taking piano lessons and the like, where the piano teacher would often be very strict about practicing, holding the correct hand positions, following the score exactly, etc.. It is probably much more pronounced in the culture that I grew up in than in North America, but basically the teacher is regarded to have absolute authority, and any deviation from his commands results in punishment. Then there are theory exams where students are graded according to the strict letter of theory, and, perhaps as a result of less-than-expert music teachers grading said exams, no leeway was given in the interpretation of the supposed rules of theory -- you had to produce perfect 4-part harmony, correct to every letter in the textbook, else you'd have marks deducted. You had to write according to well-established norms, such as standard meters, usually 4/4 or 3/4, because, in retrospect, the teachers themselves were probably only barely educated in music and wouldn't know how to grade anything else!  Now of course, my perception is probably rather biased, since, being rather rebellious in my youth, I hated any kind of imposition of rules, especially when the teacher wasn't expert enough in the subject to be able to justify them satisfactorily.  After all, there are only so many world-class composers who are also junior high music teachers, and most teachers who end up being music teachers probably weren't that great in music to begin with, since otherwise they'd be working as world-class musicians rather than teachers.

So anyway, all of that, justified or otherwise, adds up to a rather negative image of what compositions classes would be like.  Then add on top of that rumors, well-founded or otherwise, from actual composition majors whining about having to churn out one composition after another week by week, regardless of how they felt about it, about having to compose things outside their comfort zone, etc., and you start getting this idea that perhaps composition classes would suck your musical spirit dry and leave you a dry husk of your former musically-inspired self afterward. A lot of this perception is probably rather distorted, but that's unfortunately how things work in the realm of perceptions.

Then in my own personal experience, I was also acquianted with a professional composer some 2 decades ago, who also did not give me a good impression. While he was willing to provide critique of my compositions, which was very helpful and enlightening, he also held this perhaps somewhat extreme view that either you had to write something totally modern and breaking away from traditional musical norms completely, or you had better stick to the ancient classical rules to the letter, otherwise you have failed in recreating an 18th century piece. Except that I wasn't interested in recreating 18th century pieces... I was interested in exploring where things would have led if we hadn't broken away from classical norms like we did in the 20th century but had developed it further in a different direction.  My efforts were, to be frank, rather dismal and probably deserved the criticism it got, but what I found utterly discouraging was the implication that I had to be either modern or irrelevant, with no middle ground.  That did not help one bit in my perception of how modern composition classes are carried out.  Justifiably or not, I placed the blame on what I perceived (or imagined?) to be the result of formal compositional education that produced people who would hold such views.  In fact, it left such a bad taste in my mouth that I swore to myself that I will deliberately be non-modern in my compositional style from then on.  It would take years before I got over that, and perhaps I still haven't fully gotten over that today.

Now again, all of this is just perception, nothing more. Probably a lot (all?) of it is unfounded, or the result of unfortunate coincidence of discouraging situations, but that's the thing -- once people get a certain perception of something, it is very difficult to change it, even if it wasn't very well-founded in the first place.  First impressions make a world of a difference, especially when it concerns those sensitive souls that end up composing music.

What you experienced is a mixture of some very old fashioned music education and some, what we would call in academia, a pig-headed asshole (though we would write a journal article to say this). The piano teacher story is pretty typical unfortunately. Most young students are taught these set in stone rules of technique to establish a foundation of techniques that will prove very useful as students mature and become better performers. However, many teacher neglect to tell their students that eventually they will have the freedom to choose how they play music once they learn the basics; that music is free for interpretation and that eventually they will be able to play how they feel. Most will quit before they learn this, especially if the teacher doesnt let them explore or make mistakes or at the very least ensure them that they are doing these technical things for a reason. 

The composer you met just seemed like stubborn thinker, which the composition world has a lot of like any field. Their are many composers (some even on this forum) that believe music has to subscribe to a certain quality of sound world. This is not the case by any means. I can assure you as well that most composition lessons do not force students to write a certain way. out of the 9 years I have taken composition lessons, never once was I told to write a certain style of music, write a certain kind of music, or was told what I presented was wrong musically. 

My lessons, and the lessons I give, were just meant to guide me through any piece I was writing. Correct any orchestration issues (like passages that might not be playable or might not balance the way I think they would). If I was stuck, I was given suggestions but I was never force to take any suggestion and most of the time I didnt, but sometimes they would suggest something that I didnt think of and I would apply it in someway to my music (sometimes in ways they didnt suggest exactly). If I had writers block they would point me in some direction to find inspiration, through conversation, through suggesting things to look at or listen to or see. Probably the most important thing however, they would help me prepare music for performances. They would ask me questions that a performer might ask, they would proof read the score to make sure everything I wanted on the page is there in the right places, and they would suggestion formatting things to make it as readable as possible. They also gave general advice to make it as a composers in the real world (how to promote yourself, how to get music performed outside of the university system, how to get commissions, etc.) Again, they never told me how to write music or what to write. they merely guided my music and helped me find my voice.  

H. S. Teoh said:

I don't really have the time to get into details here, but as a broad answer to Tyler's enquiries about the perception that composition (or other music) lessons would be too restrictive or constricted, etc., I would say that such a perception comes as the culmination of various other sources, which may or may not be fully justifiable.  First of all, let me state again that this is a perception, and does not necessarily reflect reality. But perceptions can be important because students, esp. young students, tend to follow perception rather than fact, since they often don't know better.

My impression of music lessons from my youth was primarily shaped by observing my cousins taking piano lessons and the like, where the piano teacher would often be very strict about practicing, holding the correct hand positions, following the score exactly, etc.. It is probably much more pronounced in the culture that I grew up in than in North America, but basically the teacher is regarded to have absolute authority, and any deviation from his commands results in punishment. Then there are theory exams where students are graded according to the strict letter of theory, and, perhaps as a result of less-than-expert music teachers grading said exams, no leeway was given in the interpretation of the supposed rules of theory -- you had to produce perfect 4-part harmony, correct to every letter in the textbook, else you'd have marks deducted. You had to write according to well-established norms, such as standard meters, usually 4/4 or 3/4, because, in retrospect, the teachers themselves were probably only barely educated in music and wouldn't know how to grade anything else!  Now of course, my perception is probably rather biased, since, being rather rebellious in my youth, I hated any kind of imposition of rules, especially when the teacher wasn't expert enough in the subject to be able to justify them satisfactorily.  After all, there are only so many world-class composers who are also junior high music teachers, and most teachers who end up being music teachers probably weren't that great in music to begin with, since otherwise they'd be working as world-class musicians rather than teachers.

So anyway, all of that, justified or otherwise, adds up to a rather negative image of what compositions classes would be like.  Then add on top of that rumors, well-founded or otherwise, from actual composition majors whining about having to churn out one composition after another week by week, regardless of how they felt about it, about having to compose things outside their comfort zone, etc., and you start getting this idea that perhaps composition classes would suck your musical spirit dry and leave you a dry husk of your former musically-inspired self afterward. A lot of this perception is probably rather distorted, but that's unfortunately how things work in the realm of perceptions.

Then in my own personal experience, I was also acquianted with a professional composer some 2 decades ago, who also did not give me a good impression. While he was willing to provide critique of my compositions, which was very helpful and enlightening, he also held this perhaps somewhat extreme view that either you had to write something totally modern and breaking away from traditional musical norms completely, or you had better stick to the ancient classical rules to the letter, otherwise you have failed in recreating an 18th century piece. Except that I wasn't interested in recreating 18th century pieces... I was interested in exploring where things would have led if we hadn't broken away from classical norms like we did in the 20th century but had developed it further in a different direction.  My efforts were, to be frank, rather dismal and probably deserved the criticism it got, but what I found utterly discouraging was the implication that I had to be either modern or irrelevant, with no middle ground.  That did not help one bit in my perception of how modern composition classes are carried out.  Justifiably or not, I placed the blame on what I perceived (or imagined?) to be the result of formal compositional education that produced people who would hold such views.  In fact, it left such a bad taste in my mouth that I swore to myself that I will deliberately be non-modern in my compositional style from then on.  It would take years before I got over that, and perhaps I still haven't fully gotten over that today.

Now again, all of this is just perception, nothing more. Probably a lot (all?) of it is unfounded, or the result of unfortunate coincidence of discouraging situations, but that's the thing -- once people get a certain perception of something, it is very difficult to change it, even if it wasn't very well-founded in the first place.  First impressions make a world of a difference, especially when it concerns those sensitive souls that end up composing music.



Tyler Hughes said:

I have the same question for you has I had for H.S. Your answer to number 3 in the self taught section suggest that you feel a composition teacher might impose some constraints or "correctness" to your music. Where does this conclusion come from? I notice you mentioned that you saw friends become very restricted in their styles, were they composers or just musicians in general. If they were composers, what years did they take lessons and where? And did they tell you about their lessons, if so what did they tell they were like?

Hello Tyler - Great questions.  My response to Item 3 is largely shaped by three factors: my direct interactions with friends who have a formal musical education, interviews that I have read with composers who are formally trained and to a degree by my own wariness (more of an unease than an outright opposition) regarding formalized musical education & instruction.
Regarding my friends with formal musical educations, they are either former performance majors or they specialized in education or teaching.  None, to my knowledge studied composition as a primary focus so my impressions are definitely not based on discussions that I had with them specifically regarding composition classes they took.I have noticed a certain rigidity of approach and attitude among a few my formally educated friends.  That has been manifested in a variety of different ways.  Some for example, take a very limited view of what constitutes valid or worthwhile music and are dismissive of forms of music which fall outside of their narrowly defined parameters.  Others are very limited in terms of how they approach making music.  A friend of mine, for example, has a master's degree in performance but due to medical issues, is no longer physically able to play their primary instrument.  They have experimented with a variety of other instruments but insist on taking a very formalized, "pedagogically correct" approach towards learning the instrument.  When that approach doesnt yield the desired results, they get frustrated and move on to something else.  It seems to me that their natural curiosity becomes overpowered by the in-grained notion that they must only take a "proper" and "correct" approach towards learning an instrument.
Regarding things that I have read from other composers, comments made by Philip Glass and Steve Reich come to mind.   Both indicated that at the time they were in school (late 60s I believe) the prevailing ideas being promoted were those related to twelve tone and atonal music, serialism etc.  Each adopted an approach and style in direct reaction to the ideas that were being promoted in their studies.  Comments along those lines fairly or unfairly influenced my impression about what goes on with formalized instruction in composition.
Finally, my own wariness about formalized musical education is based on a number of things that I have observed throughout my life.  A number of friends in high school and college for example, were extremely talented players who had taken formal lessons for years.  As soon as the lessons stopped, they stopped playing. After seeing that happen in a number of cases, I began to suspect that there must be something about the manner in which formalized instruction is provided that either turns students off or that lacks relevance.  Fast forward twenty something years later to my experience with my own two children (now adults).  Both children are extremely talented musicians who have oodles more talent than I could ever hope to have.  Child #1 took piano lessons and stayed with the same classically focused teacher throughout grade school and high school.  As soon as the lessons ended, my child stopped playing.  Child #1 demonstrates no desire to continue on their own despite having a considerable amount of ability, not to mention instruction.  Child #2 started on violin with a classically focused instructor who used the Suzuki method.   After about three years of that, Child #2 announced that they did not wish to continue.  I immediately stopped the lessons and bought Child #2 an electric bass and an amp.   We started lessons with a local refugee from a head-banger band, and Child #2's interest continues on to this day.  Next fall, Child #2 heads off to a well known jazz focused school in Boston with a respectable partial scholarship in hand.  I fully realize that each Child's natural interests and aptitudes shaped their outcome, but I have to wonder how much the difference in instruction style affected the outcome.
Although I have not had any direct exposure to formalized instruction in composition, those experiences and observations related to formalized music study as a whole are what shaped my impressions and response.   I hope that this background info helps.  Best of luck with your study!

This audio Youtube, may be of some benefit to the discussion, since it gives a perfect illustration of one of the types of music mentioned during the last several posts.

However, I think one may have to listen to THE WHOLE THING ALL THE WAY THROUGH, to fully appreciate it.

12 ΩΡΕΣ ένα χλοοκοπτικό

作者剪草机的声音效果12​​小时

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcxeZ4Wwdn0

So please don't listen to just a minute or two, but DO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE SOUND TAPESTRY from beginning to end.    It is stereophonic, and that is helpful, from the point of view of realism and the quality of the experience.  

Also, for reading, along the lines that Peter suggested, people may wish to consider:

http://tinyurl.com/Future-of-Modern-Music

GENERAL QUESTIONS

1.) I began playing euphonium with a middle school band when I was roughly 11.

2.) I started composing when I found I was no longer satisfied just playing music (roughly 25 years old).

3.) Generally, I write a rough draft of my scores by hand then put them into notation software with MIDI input where I can alter parts as needed (and of course here it).  I primarily start by hand as a form of ear training.  Yes, its hard.  It usually isn't right.  And it takes a long time.  But with the way I personally learn, I feel like I have learned much more about music, composing, and even playing by writing it out by hand first.  Occassionally, I will also use a DAW and loops or samples to just experiment for ideas or try odd instrument combos.

SELF-TAUGHT QUESTIONS

1.) My decision was out of circumstance.  I attempted to find a composition teacher by visiting several of the local colleges and spoke with the music departments.  Most of them suggested a course on creating computer-based music, but few of them actually focused on composing for concert band, orchestra, or choir without the aid of a computer.  I also checked within some of the ensembles I perform with for some leads.  I managed to get a couple, but only one managed to be worth the time and unfortunately she was not accepting new students at the time.  Rather than just give up on the whole thing, I decide to learn on my own.

2.) There are two primary issues I have faced being self-taught: the lack of resources to learn composition (past the absolute basics) and being responsible for the next part of your own learning (or "what do I learn next?").  There are plenty of theory books out there on any topic, but pick up a composition book and most of them cover the same material: basics of notation, key signatures, harmonization, and form.  Don't get me wrong, those are important.  But finding new study material can get frustrating on your own.

3.) One of the biggest strengths I have in being self-taught is that I feel like I have a exponentially better understanding of music and its structure than I did before, because I struggled much more to get there.  Thinking back to my college days, I took music theory 1-4 as general electives.  For the most part, I did really well.  The homework was straight forward and I understood it all.  But through most of it, I never understood HOW or WHY it applied, only that it DID.  And while I still very much appreciate my time in those classes, I feel like I have learned at a much deeper level when I figure out the application aspect on my own.

4.) My perceptions of composition lessons would be a teacher understanding where I am in my stage of the composition process and where I want to be.  Then creating a logical path to connect the two, the lessons being the things along that path that I am not yet familiar with.

5.) I think taking lessons could only be a benefit, as long as you take something from it.  Even if you take lessons from someone who you disagree with every step along the way, as long as you take away that this method of composition is not the process for you then you have learned something that benefit your process on some level down the line.  But generally speaking, if you are taking lessons your teacher probably knows SOMETHING that you do not yet know.  And even if you don't use it, know what is possible might open up more ideas.

Im deleting all the post that dont pertain to my survey. 

Hi Tyler - Not sure if this is too late to make it into your survey, but it's been interesting to read about other people's experiences, and I wanted to share my 2 bits.

  1. When did you start studying or playing music?
    My parents forced me to play trombone in the 4th grade band to keep me from moping around the house playing video games. Unfortunately for them, I took an almost instant interest in music and decided to try to make a career out of it.
  2. When did you start composing and why?
    I started composing regularly at the age of 13 or 14--I had already been improvising regularly on the trombone and piano, and when I expressed an interest in writing my music down, my middle school band teacher gave me a free copy of Finale NotePad (this was back in the days of free promotional CD-ROMs). As to "why"--improvising was just something I'd always done when I got bored practicing my assigned music--I loved the sense of possibility and found it infinitely more interesting than practicing someone else's music over and over.
  3. How do you write your music (do you use notation software, hand written scores, or in sequencers such as DAW and samplers).
    A mix of all of the above now. Most art songs and choral music I write entirely at the piano. With works for larger ensemble, I'll constantly go back and forth between Sibelius and the piano, since the Sibelius playback allows me to fine-tune some aspects of the music that tend to get lost when I'm plunking away at the piano (mainly large-scale pacing and complex textures--I learned the hard way not to use MIDI for orchestration!)

 

Composers who had teachers (i.e. you had a composition professor or a private teacher who taught you composition as oppose to music teachers that allowed you to compose. I have to be very specific):

  1. When did you begin taking composition lessons?
    First year of university (or "freshman year of college" in the States, where I was at the time!)
  2. Where you required to present a portfolio or some kind of evidence of your composition prior to beginning your lessons?
    Yes -- In order to take composition lessons at my undergrad institution, you had to be a composition major, which required a portfolio of at least 3 compositions for various ensembles. 
  3. Where did you take composition lessons (what university or what region of the world i.e. hometown or country)
    Various places in the USA and Canada, but I ended up getting my BMus at Ithaca College in New York State and my MMus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
  4. What were your composition lessons like (how were they structured, what did you do in them, how long were they)
    For the first year, all the new composition majors met as a class (1 hour, 3 times a week), which was highly structured and included new assignments almost every week. After that, composition lessons were 1-on-1 affairs for an hour once a week, and were less structured: we would simply show the teacher what we were working on at the time, and he or she would offer critiques, suggestions, and goals for the next week.
  5. What was your composition teacher like (did they allow you to write what you want or did they give you assignments like “what in this style” or “write for this ensemble or instrumentation” etc.)
    During the first year class, the assignments were highly specific (e.g. "write an unaccompanied piece for a wind instrument; be prepared to talk about how you handled motive and phrase structure" or even "write a 1-minute 12-tone piece for piano"). After that, things were much more open-ended, but by the end of the degree we had to have met certain portfolio requirements (e.g. to have composed at least a song cycle, an orchestra piece, an electronic piece, an instrumental chamber work, and a few others). Outside of first year assignments (and music theory assignments for other classes), we were never made to write in a specific style, but occasionally there was still a bit of cultural pressure among some of my peers to write in a "modern" style. When I received feedback from these people on my work, I had to be careful to distinguish between criticisms of style and criticisms of craft (this is something I also had to learn the hard way!)
  6. Where your composition lessons a positive or negative experience? 
    On the whole, it was a positive experience. While creativity can't be taught, technique can be--and good technique helps us give voice to broader and more ambitious creative visions. Studying orchestration, counterpoint, and theory provided insights into how great composers were able express their ideas and write large, dramatically engaging works without boring (or losing) the audience.
    I do, however, think that most of the music I wrote as an undergrad ended up being more complicated and esoteric than it would have been if I hadn't studied composition (and in retrospect, I view this as a negative, since it wasn't true to my creative instincts and wasn't accessible to many listeners or performers). As I previously mentioned, this wasn't a result of pressure from my teachers--most composition programs in North America today will proudly tell you that they don't have any "stylistic agenda"--but of a lack of self-confidence and a desire to fit in among composition students who often ignored any music written before 1950. When I got to grad school and started writing stuff that was more "traditional" and accessible to a broader range of listeners and performers, the craft that I learned as an undergrad was still extremely valuable in actualizing this music.

its absolutely not to late 

thanks to all those who have already taken the survey. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Sign up info

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

Store

© 2020   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service