Composing - what does your process look like?

Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by ein fisch, Mar 7, 2019.

  1. Blackster

    Blackster Senior Member

    That's a great topic! One of our Academy members (Nathanael Iversen) was so kind and shared his experience report about puts himself in creative mode. That's the first article of 3 ... the 2nd one will be released in a few hours, actually! :) ...


    For me, it's really a very strict process nowadays: Gathering material, sketching, developing, getting paid! :) ...

    All of these steps (except the last one) are pretty wide and there are a many ways how you can get them done but my main goal is to stay in creative mode for as long as possible. I want to make decisions based on emotions rather than pure technique because the client uses emotions to evaluate what you've done anyway.
    Montisquirrel likes this.
  2. ed buller

    ed buller Senior Member

    Mar 23, 2011
    One of the best things I got from Hans's MASTERCLASS ( get it if you haven't ) is just to start and keep going. Work linearly for a while. You can easily delete a bit of it doesn't work or move things about. In the lesson he does this with a session from The Second Sherlock film. It's very intuitive. He just works on bits...each after the other. He calls it a Diary and I found it very useful..


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  3. Blackster

    Blackster Senior Member

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  4. enyawg

    enyawg Member

    Aug 28, 2016
    To be honest I’m more creative and even surprise myself at times if I don’t have a laser-focus. Ad-lib and jamming often creates my best work... to moving pictures at least. It helps me find the “tempo of a scene” and I don’t mean BPM.
  5. cmillar

    cmillar Active Member

    Jan 15, 2014
    I find there are now different scenarios:

    1. If the music is to be recorded by a DAW and software instruments/electronic:
    - I like to sketch some main ideas out first on paper
    - then, I expect to be sorely disappointed once I start to record and play my ideas into the DAW...because every sample library will 'dictate' to you what will actually work and be playable and recordable. You'll always have to compose as to what you sample libraries can or can't original concepts and ideas usually have to change and adapt to the softwares' strengths or weaknesses.

    2. If the music will be for a live ensemble:
    - paper and paper first for form, melodies, harmonies, etc. Don't even turn the computer on.
    - then input the music into Sibelius. Taking advantage of the playback capabilities (NotePerformer or Sibelius Sounds) I can get a pretty good idea of form, length, etc. to see if I like what I've come up with.
    - then, make a score and get parts ready for printing

    For me, there's nothing worse than having to remember how to do things in a DAW or notation program when you can actually use the pencil and write down the music in a fraction of the time.

    Plus, with real score/music paper, you can see what you're doing! can reference music you've already composed and get a sense of linear flow.

    With the music 'in the monitor', I find I don't get into any sense of musical form or flow.

    Old school? For sure...but if it was good enough for Mozart and the others, it's good enough for me.

    Computers are nice, but with paper/pencil you can compose anywhere! Take an iPad with a piano program; take a small batter powered keyboard with you; sketch out ideas with no piano...just flow and rhythmic curves; sit in an art gallery; sit in a coffee shop; etc.
    Farkle likes this.
  6. Rodney Money

    Rodney Money My hair is now growing back.

    Mar 6, 2015
    Although my close friends think I do, I honestly don’t believe I have perfect pitch, but I do believe instead I have an overhyped relative pitch. Because I always tuned to concert F when playing brass instruments I hear that pitch clearly then can relate all the others to that note. In college the discussion came up twice where a theory instructor tested me if I could hear F or Bb because I was a trumpet player, and once even my own trumpet professor put me on the spot in front of the entire studio to see if I could sing F in tune “tuning it green” without looking at it. I was the only one who could at the time.

    Even now all of my brass instruments’ tuning slides are pushed all the way in where normally they would be pushed half an inch out to be at 440. When I’m working with other musicians such as piano players I need to tell myself to be nice and say yes if they ask me if I need a tuning note even though I don’t need one. The only time I need one is when I play with organs, because they are “out of tune” from 443-442, and I need to tune to them.

    If I am working on a composition or melody, let’s say in G, Bb, or even set theory, then the key or tonal center never wavers in my mind. Sometimes I will check the piano just to make sure because of my perfectionism and musical ocd. I can hear the different blended colors of the orchestra in my mind also like a clarinet with a marimba, tuba with a bassoon, or a cello and a euphonium. It’s very common for me to also quickly jot down a line for a soloist or section 15 minutes before rehearsal and not need to change a thing afterwards save an ornament here or there.

    My mind only has enough space to only remember music and stories from the Bible. I am awful at math, horrible with directions driving to locations I should know, I don’t even know my own cellphone number, and I cannot remember names. The only way I can remember my social security number or address is to practice it like an instrument. But concerning music my mind never fells me remembering themes even over 20 years old, and right now I have a completed 45 minute symphony in my head that constantly plays.

    What gives me trouble in music is trying to convey through sheet music and DAW what is in my head. My 40 minute trumpet concerto is being premiered this April, but sadly only 6 out of the 7 movements are complete with the finale remaining unfinished. The reasoning is because there is a constant struggle among what is in my head vs what is playable vs what is only playable naturally by me where others may greatly struggle. When I sent in 1-6 of the movements the 1st thing the soloist said was this looks hard, and in a fascinating curiosity I asked, “Which parts?” Because I truly could not tell! For me it felt almost sight readable with some polishing.

    The problem with the finale is that it is running too long and is way too hard with what I hear inside my head. It might “kill” a performer being unplayable, so in my mind all weekend I have been trying to rework an entire section while having to do things like taxes, go to Best Buy, and to a Sweet 16 birthday. I think I have it almost worked out but I would still have to make sure it works, engrave the score, and finish the DAW electronic fixed media. That is my constant stress right now.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019
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  7. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 old school

    Feb 8, 2016

    You're a composer then Rodney..:thumbsup: (to paraphrase Messiaen, the realisation of which came when young whilst looking at a score and realising he could hear it).

    I too have a lot of those traits, but my relative pitch is sometimes unreliable if music is overly chromatic. I've even had to be left alone in the control room at st1 Abbey rd to write revisions over lunch (damn clients - that was drinking time). It's moments like that when you really are grateful for the training.
    Fortunately, most of these necessary (imv) traits can be acquired with practice and learning if one feels so inclined. Still, it sounds like you are fully equipped for a masterwork and I am feeling a little (only a little mind) jealous - but hah, my First Symphony is 47mins there......:2thumbs:
    Rodney Money likes this.
  8. Leon Willett

    Leon Willett Active Member

    Apr 14, 2005
    Good thread!

    I have done a lot of research into this, over almost 20 years. For myself, and for others, here is the writing approach that I recommend, for orchestral music, wholeheartedly.

    Music is made out of elements that come in and out of the music. An element could be a single line played by an instrument or group (like, say a melody in horns), or it could be a group of lines that are blended timbrally and with roughly the same rhythm (like, say, a string pad… or even a melody half the players are playing a lower, "shadow" below the leader). I call this second kind of element, simply: a line with shadows.

    The approach is:

    You write one element at a time, all the way to each element’s natural ending spot, even if it turns out to be quite long. Resist the temptation to consider what other elements should also be there: you will add them later. When you’re done with an element, you add another, and then another, and then another…

    Each element you are adding should be added because it is fulfilling a desire you are having. A desire for a particular contour, a desire for a particular EQ range (deepness, for example), a desire for a particular poetic character (eg: heroism, mystery), a desire for a particular harmonic journey to be expressed, etc, etc.

    Every time you finish an element, you zoom out, look at your piece and consider what desire is not fulfilled yet. Once you notice a desire, you zoom in and add another element to help fulfil that desire.

    The order of the elements should be from left to write in your piece of music, so you should notice unmet desires as early as possible in your piece, and add elements right there, instead of forging ahead too quickly, leaving unmet desires behind. If you do forge ahead too quickly, you will run into problems where, when you go back to fulfil unmet desires earlier in the piece, elements bump into each other later. Hard to describe here in text, but take my word for it!

    When an element is falling on the empty page (because it is the first one in the whole piece, or because the element is opening up new bars of music where it happens to be the only one sounding), it is called a trail blazer. It is the one that decides the chords for all the other elements to follow. Even a single line element carries imagined chords with it. So, a trail blazer is a special kind of element, because it carries on its shoulders the responsibility of deciding the harmonic journey that the rest of the orchestra will follow, and this must be considered carefully, in the context of the piece as a whole!

    It’s actually a simple method.

    You add one thing, then another, then another… and you are mindful of what your trailblazers are doing to your piece. You are fully devoted to each element you add, and should not be finding yourself re-writing or fiddling with old elements. I should have mentioned earlier: no need for a sketch... just go straight in. Your trailblazer elements are your sketch.
    Ken Still, Saxer, Farkle and 3 others like this.
  9. GtrString

    GtrString Active Member

    Dec 10, 2016
    I try to listen. The birds, the wind, the rhythm of the day, the news, the mood I'm in ect. And use those things to set a pace, a tone, rhythm, melody ect.

    The hard thing is to shut down the inner dialogue, and direct it towards listening and being intuitive.

    I try not to think of an order, but just go. Doing things in order (editing) is for later.

    If working to a brief, the process preceeds a bit of research, coding the creativity. I do that more often.
  10. thecomposer10

    thecomposer10 Soundtrack Composer • Pianist

    So I usually take different routes depending on whether I'm writing film or concert music. I used to write concert music straight into Sibelius, years ago, but was never happy with how "square" the result was. So, for concert music, what I do now – and have been doing for some time – is record a series of improvisations, either via phone voice memo or straight into Logic via my MIDI controller, and then synthesize those into a cohesive piece in Sibelius. I find that the result has an organicism that I am unable to accomplish without the improvisatory element.

    As for scores, usually (key word: *usually*) my scores have a lot simpler harmonic structure that doesn't require notation. So I'll figure out a melody (if applicable) on the piano and then get straight to orchestrating in Logic, moving things around if I don't think something is working. In the rare cases when cues are more extensive (like a complex action cue), I will usually do a short-score (four part, akin to two pianos) or, if absolutely necessary, a reduced orchestral score that doesn't have synths, percussion, or the stuff I know I can easily add in my DAW.

    To give you an idea of how these two methods sound in practice, here's a concert music-style thing for piano trio I composed a few months ago, as an accompaniment to a silent film:

    And here's an orchestral cue from a score:
  11. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    The farting of my wife under the covers at night.....
    thecomposer10 likes this.
  12. toomanynotes

    toomanynotes Active Member

    Jul 8, 2012
    I find most of my good compositions come while in the shower. Then I will write it down in a notation program or grab a guitar and record it to remind myself at a later date.
    thecomposer10 likes this.
  13. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 old school

    Feb 8, 2016
    Apparently my wife does not's always me who's to blame.
  14. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    Girls don't poop!

    P.S. I always blame it on the cat.
  15. OP
    ein fisch

    ein fisch Dreamer

    Jul 6, 2016
    Switzerland, Zürich
    I actually would be interested to see what kind of music comes out when a professional composers inspiration was a fart
  16. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    Story of my entire career.
    ein fisch likes this.
  17. MartinH.

    MartinH. Senior Member

    Jun 16, 2018
    Something with 12 horns...
    Parsifal666 and ein fisch like this.
  18. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    LOL!!!! Beyond Richard Strauss orchestration...Sir Seymour Butts presents THE FARTISSIMO CONCERTO!

    (nose plugs passed out at entrance)
    MartinH. and mikeh-375 like this.
  19. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    Sorry, I am a hopeless cornball.
  20. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 old school

    Feb 8, 2016
    Fluttertongue obviously...
    How did such a noble thread divebomb so quickly...oh..yeah...composers.
    MartinH. and Parsifal666 like this.

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