Is there a perfect way to start a new piece?

Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by SimonCharlesHanna, Dec 3, 2018.

  1. SimonCharlesHanna

    SimonCharlesHanna Senior Member

    Feb 3, 2012
    Is there a perfect way to start a new piece?

    I am curious about everyone's opinion/process on this.

    My current technique is to slam my hands on the keyboard, cry, scream, pace, think I have some direction then abandon it 3 minutes into execution etc. Until I have some stitched together sketch track that I can then massage into something more coherent.

    Do any of you work with a sort of routine that is reliable?
    Just when I think I have a technique/process that works, Ill replicate it on my subsequent track for it to completely fail me.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
  2. Chr!s

    Chr!s Senior Member

    May 27, 2018
    Most of the time, I hear some melody in my head, transcribe it, and then just go from there.
    dougj7 and TheSigillite like this.
  3. dzilizzi

    dzilizzi I know nothing

    Feb 27, 2017
    Somewhere near Los Angeles
    LOL! I was watching a video on that, may have been a Udemy class. He said his teacher said pick a note and start. An F# is a good one.

    I usually use chord track to find some chords that sound good together and go from there. I guess if you can play well, you can play. The nice thing about the chord track is it gives suggestions for the next chord, some are ones you probably wouldn't have thought of. Once I play it a few times a melody just comes for me.
    richardt4520 likes this.
  4. Counterpointer

    Counterpointer Active Member

    Dec 21, 2017
    Interesting thread.

    I usually open up a piano plugin and just improvise with the target emotion in mind. When I come up with something that suits the theme well enough I justs go with it. I have had troubles in the past in getting stuck with details right away, but now I'm forcing myself to move on as soon as I have something that is good enough. I have realized that It's a lot easier to compose if I have something to go from. The worst creativity killer is a blank project. So I improvise and make decisions quick. Things can always be altered and bettered later.
  5. CGR

    CGR Pianist/Composer/Arranger

    Jan 14, 2016
    Hmmm, for me it really depends on what I'm hoping to achieve. Sometimes sitting at the piano and letting my hands fall into 'shapes' on the keys. I try not to watch my hands in fear of analysing what I'm doing, and just try to really listen and keep it fresh.

    Other times it's a recurring melody line in my head, and sometimes a bass line/groove in my head which sparks a composition (have done this numerous times - this track started with a bass groove in my head whilst showering one morning and when I got to the studio it came together very quickly):
    SchnookyPants likes this.
  6. OP

    SimonCharlesHanna Senior Member

    Feb 3, 2012
    Interesting responses so far though not many which is interesting.

    Improvisation leads me astray too often and I get sidetracked from my main goal. I have to trash my latest composition because of this ;(
  7. CGR

    CGR Pianist/Composer/Arranger

    Jan 14, 2016
    Not sure what you mean here?
  8. Saxer

    Saxer Senior Member

    Mar 30, 2008
    It's easy when there's already something... a movie to score, someone waiting for a demo, an idea in the head before sitting at the DAW, theory things to try...

    Hardest thing is a new template... hey, now I could write everything! And nothing happens. Or three hours left until I have to leave. Hard to get into flow with self pressure instead of undertow to somewhere... if that makes sense.

    But at the end, when a nice piece is done, there obviously was a perfect way to start.
  9. Silence-is-Golden

    Silence-is-Golden ^^

    Jun 8, 2015
    my experience as well (allthough different at the same time because I am not saxer :D )

    I see at also organically:
    - you cannot force something to appear, like a plant cannot produce a fantastic flower at command.

    - and it's a lot of training, as apart from creating something unique (although that is a different thing then the op may ask) . Athletes or sports(wo)men as an example need to train a lot to be able to produce the right shot (f.e. tennis) at the right time. If you see yourself as doing a top sport, and in this case musicanship you need to train a lot before you may get something worthwile.

    Thus for me mostly "it" happens in the right balance between wanting/desiring something to appear and not expecting anything at all. Mostly then I remain at the right attention to listen what I then play, and keeping a playful stance.
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  10. Kony

    Kony Senior Member

    Jul 29, 2016
    I think he means he doesn't know half of you half as well as he should like; and he likes less than half of you half as well as you deserve
  11. Illico

    Illico Samuel Le Tonquèze

    Most of the time, I simply start improvisation on my keyboard.
    But, for my next piece, first I will try to transcribe a Master piece I like, hoping some new ideas will emerged. Then 'i'll do my job.
  12. Hywel

    Hywel Finally... an SSD for samples!

    Aug 1, 2015
    Being a hobbyist I have no video work to inspire me but I am a photographer and can sometimes pull up an old picture from my archive and trying to let that take me somewhere.
    I most often use a piano patch (currently L&S's Grand Piano) layered with a quiet pad to noodle at, but other things I have tried are...
    1. just using a monophonic melody instrument to start off with and not worrying about chords and harmony until later
    2. picking a sound at random from within the Kontakt universe and trying to create something with it - this technique I find best with bass instrument type sounds
    3. picking a rhythm/drum groove and playing with it
    4. finding a line of a lyric from anywhere and using it to create a melody line
    5. I have sometimes used Cubase's chord pads but mainly I find I have no problems coming up with chords and chord changes once I have a melody
    6. Sometimes a simple pad sound is inspiration enough to progress and add melody lines to - again I try to audition a few before starting that I might not have used previously
    I suppose in summary... anything goes if it inspires you.
    CGR likes this.
  13. ka00

    ka00 Senior Member

    Oct 23, 2017
    Toronto, Canada
    First, Simon, you have tons more experience and ability than me, so I kind of shouldn’t be posting but, I think it’s the criterion of the “perfect” way to start that has maybe limited the responses. Probably I would venture to guess that it implies a foolproof, super efficient way to create that works 100% of the time. But maybe that doesn’t exist in reality.

    I think it’s a natural part of the process for me for things to sound bad at first and then get better.

    Thom Yorke was interviewed about his process and I wrote down what he said, which was reassuring: “Most of my time is spent scratching away, scratching away, and nothing’s happening, and then finally, all of a sudden you have something. That’s the process.”

    I remember a moment in photography class back in university, where the professor showed us a slideshow of raw unedited photos from the great Ansel Adams, to show us a chronological process of shooting one day that led to one of his masterpiece photos. The slide show we saw was mostly filled with crappy, subpar images that rightly never saw the light of day, but among all of them there was one really nice raw image that he picked to focus on and painstakingly make better through the special printing techniques he developed.

    As for techniques I use:

    One thing that really stuck with me from the Hans Zimmer MasterClass was his use of a Musical Diary. Basically improvising in the DAW, without much self censorship and using markers to denote interesting parts. I found that very useful for me personally.

    I also record on my phone a lot of short melody improvs on the piano. Then I casually listen back to those over and over again, skipping the ones that are crap and replaying the ones that I’ve grown to like or find catchy or memorable. The yield is about 10% good stuff, and the rest is trash.

    Another thing I do is improvise in the DAW with chords until I find something on later playback that I wasn’t expecting and that somehow resonates with me, and then I use that as an inspiring new starting point expand upon.

    And the one other thing I do that is kind of embarrassing, is I’ll think about my favourite composers and pretend in my head that I’m hearing something new that I love from them that I’ve never heard before, and then I just imagine what that is and if it sounds halfway decent, I’ll go sketch it out.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2018 at 1:04 PM
  14. Ned Bouhalassa

    Ned Bouhalassa Senior Member

    Sep 30, 2004
    I often like to start with textures, a pulse of some kind, then I move to bass, knowing that at this point, it’s more about nailing the timbre of the bass, not the final notes/pitches. Melody, if it’s a melodic cue, follows, whereby I noodle simple things on the keyboard, and try singing ideas to get a sense of phrasing. Once I’ve found something I like, I will either play some chords underneath with short strings or synths or keys, to get the harmony going. Next step is to revisit the bass, textures, etc. When I inevitably get stuck, instead of banging my head for hours, I leave the sketch until the next day, when I can have fresh ears.
  15. wilifordmusic

    wilifordmusic Member

    Jan 28, 2012
    First, you have to know why you're writing the music.
    Is it supporting action, or implying an emotion or playing against all of the above?
    Is it suggesting another similar situation or is it totally new territory?
    All these things will help to suggest to you the musical vocabulary.
    And by vocabulary I mean, harmony, form, and orchestration.

    Each of us has a different way of proceeding through this short list, but line 1 is the most important.

    hope this helps, Steve
  16. I don't know if I've found the perfect way to start a new piece, but I'm 100% positive I've already found many bad ways :)

    My best results so far happened when I started with a piano sketch, and composed FAST. When I focus on a single part during the composition process, it's almost always a disaster : At the best, I end up with 8 good bars, and absolutely no idea what to do before and after.
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  17. Hey, dropping in to say please contact me immediately when one is found, thank you.

    As of my current methods, I take it 8 bars at a time,yep just 8 at a time. Start with anything you want within those 8 bars. Whatever you FEEL for at the moment you pick an instrument to match it, a cowbell, taiko, piano, brass, synth. Whatever sound you may or may not have in your head at the moment. After-all, it's only 8 bars. Then add a second, third, fourth or as many layers you want to those 8 bars. In your mind. At this time, as far as you're to be concerned, your entire composition will only be 8 bars.

    Once satisfied, you add yet ANOTHER 8 bars and follow or not follow the path of your first 8 bars if that's whats needed. This is the time to change speed, chord progression, rhythm, introduce a new motif or motif's, ect. I find composing this way UNLESS it's imperative, takes away my will to copy/paste my first 8 bars thus restricts me from being repetitive in my movements and compositions.

    Oh! If you already have a melody, say it's 16 bars of melody, then my rule changes to 16 bars at a time. I think you get the drift by now. Afterwards, you can submit it to your Client for review. Then change bits and pieces from the feedback. If it's for personal use, then that gives you even more freedom! With music, the possibilities are endless, the thought of that alone should be inspiring!
    Cheers :)
  18. joebaggan

    joebaggan Senior Member

    Dec 5, 2017
    Yep, spending initial time on getting a loose sketch of the whole piece/structure rather than obsessing on one part means you know where you're going, and that's key for me. I've gotten stuck many times by trying to perfect one part or detail too soon.
  19. GtrString

    GtrString Senior Member

    Dec 10, 2016
    The idea of "start" can be interesting. Inspiration, idea in head, use of composing apps/devices, brief, improvisation, transfer of ideas to daw, first note, melody or harmony, instrument preference ect.. where and when do you think a piece "starts"?
  20. still_lives

    still_lives unsound

    Jul 31, 2018
    music is a language. a piece starts when you decide you have something to say.

    if i just start banging out notes, muscle memory takes over and i'm back in the same rut, playing the same old bullshit as ever. muscle memory is great for technique, but not so good for trying to break new ground.

    so i think the 'start' doesn't come from within. it's external. it's a burning itch from hell, a nagging feeling, a question, an observation, whatever; it's from outside, and it's trying to get into your brain.

    when something about reality surprises me, and what is reality if not full of surprises... a spark ignites, myelination occurs, and that's when a song starts.

    then it's just a matter of using my present understanding of the language to try to communicate that experience.

    routine is the slow death of ingenuity.

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