I thought I’d post about my own composing activities, which is something that I haven’t done a whole lot. Composing is a funny thing sometimes, because what you plan out, isn’t always what you end up finishing with. I’ll talk a little more about that when I get to my Piano Trio (still in progress at this point, but I have generally finished the first and second movements. Under each
To start off, I am going talk about my two songs without words.
Song Without Words No. 2
This is my second attempt at writing a “Song Without Words” a la Mendelssohn (not saying I am nearly as good, but he is the inspiration I am working from). This piece is sort of a modified small ternary form, with a main theme, a contrasting middle section, and then a recapitulation.
I enjoy writing these short piano pieces because, for better or worse, they don’t require much in terms of development. This means that you can try something new, and if it works, it works, if it doesn’t… it doesn’t. But thats the end of it. You don’t have to worry about a long development section or how it all ties in. Its great for practicing certain aspects of your composing, like maybe focusing particularly on melody, and not worrying about the figuration of the accompaniment. In a longer piece, using the same type of accompaniment could get pretty monotonous, so you would find yourself with a lot more choices. For sharpening your skills, especially when focusing on only one or two aspects of your composing, then this is the way to go.
Song Without Words No. 3
I was inspired to write this after reading a book called Audacious Euphony by Richard Cohn. This book is all about 19th century chromatic harmony. There are really neat revelations on how the augmented and diminished chords relates to so many other chords due to their perfect evenness. He also explains the unique properties of major and minor triads because of their near-evenness. Good book, but a little heavy on the music theory. If you are not good with traditional harmony, then it may be a little daunting.
I also wanted to write something that I would be able to play myself, as a relatively amateur pianists with only a few lessons under my belt that I took in high school. I think I will take more lessons in the future.
Piano Trio No. 1 Movements 1 and 2
This is to date, the longest movement I have written, and it is gearing up to be my first completed multi movement work. I will not hide the fact that I have been listening to a lot of Ravel and Debussy. While I still have a lot to learn about their styles, I feel with everything I listen or study about their music, I am learning something new.
It basically follows a modified sonata form. The opening is a slow introduction, that sets the dark overtones. There is a fast d minor section that is the main theme of the piece. The middle section, after the fast d minor section, is from an earlier attempt at writing a piano sonata that I decided to abandon. I am not sure if it really fits with the music though, and I may end up replacing it before everything is finalized.
This is a slow movement, where I really try to work on melodic writing. The first part is in 6/8 with a few measures venturing into 6/4 and 4/4. The middle section is pseudo-modal, with some more interesting harmonies thrown in. Finally, the real development happens in the recapitulation, where the theme, originally in 6/8 is transformed into 4/4 and gets a much more stable feeling.
What I’ve Learned This Month About Composing
These are the things that have really stuck out for me this month:
Composing is Work… Hard Work
So what have I really learned this month. Composing is work. Pure and simple, it is a gut check every time a sit down to compose. Sometimes you sit down and write, and by the end of the session, you feel frustrated, ready to quit, and generally like a worthless piece of garbage, because you just couldn’t come up with anything that you thought was worth the paper it was written on.
But sometimes, things just start to come together. Its almost like magic, but not entirely. I can see improvement coming all of the hard work I’ve been putting into reading about music theory, forcing myself to listen to more music (actually I have been running a lot more as well, so I get a good dose of me time while listening to my favorite composers), and actually increasing the amount of time I spend composing. When you do write something that motivates you, it feeds itself and by a certain point you realize that you have been working on autopilot and you actually have some real music down.
If you don’t put in the time, you won’t get better.
My Process is Becoming Clearer to Me
My process for composing is starting to become more “standardized.” I find that I enjoy writing the themes on piano using paper, but then fleshing it out using Sibelius. The reason is mainly because I can hear what it sounds like, using the instruments I am writing for… and I am not that great at piano. Even my Song Without Words No. 3 will take me a while to really get under my fingers.
There are other benefits to composing using software. Things like instantaneous transposition, automated scripts that you can write (I haven’t written any myself yet, but I may in the future) that help take some of the nug work out of transforming ideas.
Mostly though the playback and instantaneous feedback are what I like. Maybe its a crutch. I haven’t quite decided yet.
I’d love to hear what others have learned this month about their own composing process.