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Does anyone else ever write twenty seconds of music that rip your heart out and then really struggle to add anything else to it?

marclawsonmusic

Senior Member
Do musicians/composers beat themselves up too much over such things as a "too short" a piece of music. Beauty, it seems to me, can be found in the "diversity" of length. My wife and I frequent museums and see where the size of the canvas does not equate to its beauty but rather the colors used, the emotion or intent displayed. YMMV.
Yes, of course, but OP was asking about the struggle to add more and not being able to do that easily.

If you want to make a short piece of music, by all means do so. But if you want to create something that is more comprehensive, and are struggling to do that, I think 'craft' comes in to play here.

When I say 'craft', I am not referring to the intrinsic 'art' (or idea / concept) of the piece... just the tools one can use to lengthen / develop / enhance that original idea.
 

shawnsingh

Active Member
Yeah I feel plagued by this issue all the time, too.

I'm not "good" at overcoming this problem, I struggle a lot, but the times where I have managed to overcome this problem, I noticed some things about my mindset. And so I've been trying to take advantage of these ideas more often, and I think it does seem to help.

(1) it's easy to accidentally be too stingy with musical ideas. Creating one cool texture or theme is not really enough for a well-developed song. Even two is not enough. Leap of faith #1 is that you will not "run out of musical ideas" just by putting 4-5 ideas into one song.

(2) It's easy to get stuck focusing on the micro structures of the music, which makes it very scary to make a more abrupt transition to a part of the music that might be quite a bit different. But a lot of great music makes such abrupt changes all the time. Leap of faith #2 is to be more confident that changing between themes will not be as jarring from a bigger perspective, it just may seem like it when the composer gets stuck looking at the micro structures of one phrase. Listen to many great classical pieces and there are plenty of abrupt transitions between phrases or between A and B sections - as a listener with a macro perspective, those changes are just part of setting up the overall arc and exposition of the piece. It's like different paragraphs. One paragraph can be introspective, the next can be dialogue, and the next can be concrete action. There certainly is an art of making transitions impactful and natural, which comes with more experience - but before being able to learn about that, it's first necessary to take the leap and force yourself to juxtapose things, and trust that the transition is not as awkward as it seems for the composer.

(3) It's easy to be too focused on always building from established main themes for every second of the entire piece. Leap of faith #3 is that "filler or placeholder music" is actually very meaningful in a composition and deserves a composer's efforts. But somehow as composers we tend to look down on filler material as something we should only resort to when we have to compromise the artistic part of the craft - and that's where we can get blocked. Actually there's plenty of "filler" material in great musical works too, which may have musical purpose but doesn't necessarily use the main melodies or themes. Best example of this is a rondo form, like A-B-A-C-A . B and C don't necessarily have ideas that get reused in the piece, but they can still serve a developmental purpose for listeners experiencing the work - they can still be used to invoke particular emotions, etc. Personally I find the perspective of "just create some filler crap here and come back to it later" very liberating - usually when I've done that, I've been able to either (a) come back to it and fix it up later with a better perspective, and make it work very nicely in the piece, or (b) often times that filler material turned out to be interesting enough to make new motifs/themes from it, which further helped me be creatively unblocked to keep going.

(4) finally, I've found that trying to compose top-down can work really well. But it's still hard for me to be able to do this regularly. Usually I make 20 seconds, and then ask myself "what would sound good in the next 20 seconds to extend this?". But the top-down approach is to solve all the form and structure of how you want the music to arc in the entire song, before figuring out motific/thematic details. And without worrying about any harmonic gymnastics or how you'll transition between things. Then, progressively filling out the details. This is the ultimate leap of faith: to trust yourself enough that you'll be able to compose the details under the constraints you're creating by figuring out the form and structure first. It's quite scary, I usually prefer to prove to myself that I can create a smaller excerpt and then fish for the inspiration of how to bring excerpts together - and that's where I get blocked. But every time I have forced myself to do the top-down approach, it's worked out just fine and I've composed faster, without feeling blocked. I think the reality is that there's much more opportunity to "correct the form and structure decisions" later, even though initially it feels like you'd be locking yourself into impossible constraints. I feel like the pieces I've made with top-down composing approach are some of my stronger compositions overall.

Cheers!
 

Mornats

Senior Member
Leap of faith #1 is that you will not "run out of musical ideas" just by putting 4-5 ideas into one song.
Whilst all of your post is fantastic advice (many thanks for sharing this, it's incredibly helpful to me) this is a genuine fear of mine so thanks for the insight that this is a myth. :)
 

Parsifal666

I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.
Depends on how concerned you really are with conventional structures. When I'm writing my art music (as opposed to commercial music) I never let forms dictate what I'm doing.

Don't be a slave to, say, a sonata form that got pounded into the ground by the time of early Beethoven. Unless you're writing strictly for cash.
 

Parsifal666

I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.
Modulate, write the main melody a third above and/or use either partly or entirely different orchestration, invert, use pauses, change the entire genre mid-piece...plenty of resources that can be Google'd besides those. Use a phrase sample and dress it up with the original theme accompanying...

John Zorn helped prove that short pieces are fine. If you have a four bar thing going that's really good, you could just put it in your motifs folder. Make sure you also create a folder for transitions (the latter can be endlessly helpful from my experience).
 
Definitely, but incredibly more so with ideas that were really simple music ideas that had more of a focus on sound design or instrumentation. If it's a melody that really inspired me, I can usually sit at a piano and if I spend enough time I can usually come up with a few concepts to play with.

When I first started figuring out how to do it, I felt like a hack because the tricks I tried during exploration felt incredibly dumb (e.g. shove two lines from the concept together and massage one or both to create interesting harmony, quoting earlier points in the song). You'd think that by this point in my life I'd be used to feeling like a lucky idiot, but no!

But the ideas where maybe I happened upon a cool synth patch and just programmed some riff and percussion to go with it, those are usually doomed.
 
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