Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Composing 101

I wrote a piece, complete with a 4-part jazz arrangement, in 2 ½ hours the other day. While I was writing, I kept a diary of what was gong on in my mind, to help give you, the reader, insight into the compositional process. Now you, too, can begin to understand the steps one must take in writing music, the problems that must be solved, and the mind games one must conquer:

Step 1) Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, try, succeed!

Step 2) Move on to measure two.

Step 3) Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, say “ah-ha,” cross out measure one, rewrite.

Step 4) Notice I said “cross out,” not erase. (VERY IMPORTANT)

Step 5) Repeat Step 2.

Step 6) Hum what you have written.

Step 7) Cringe.

Step 8) Tape record yourself humming, and listen back.

Step 9) Cringe more.

Step 10) Play what you have written on the piano.

Step 11) Smile a little.

Step 12) Accidentally figure out the ending, then stew over the middle section for hours/days/weeks/months.

Step 13) Speaking of accidents, another VERY IMPORTANT step is the Leap of Faith. Close your eyes and land on a chord or key you never would have chosen. Say “oops” then say “hmmmm?”

Step 14) Speaking of accidentals, a sharp or flat here or there may really punch up your melody!

Step 15) That idea you crossed out earlier? Try using it in bar 105. A perfect fit!!

Step 16) Spend a minute (or a year) thinking of a title.

Step 17) Carefully (I suggest using a ruler) draw in some double bars, and you’re finished!

Now, friends, you can see why writing music is so pleasurable, so. . .addicting!

Moral: You will fail many, many times during the writing process. You will also succeed in many ways. You will learn to trust your instincts. You will learn to make good choices. You will find a way to finish. And (hopefully) you will enjoy the process!

Becky Archibald

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