Author Topic: Just a basic thought  (Read 1826 times)

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Just a basic thought
« on: November 24, 2011, 05:48:49 AM »
Composing these days is as easy as turning on your computer. Or, at least, that's what the ads for computers and software want you to believe. Just play some notes, have the software write them down for you and choose any instrument from all the sound fonts, sample banks, synthesized sounds, sound modeling and whatnot available. Voilą, your opus one.
Or is it?

Composing is like writing a manual for heavy machinery. It is probably best to know the machine before you tell someone else how to operate it. It really doesn't look good when you write: "In case of an emergency, press the red button on the front", when there is no red button anywhere on the machine. There is, of course, less chance of a musical instrument exploding in your face when you write a note that can't be played, but you'll end up with a not so amused operator/instrumentalist either way.
I'm not saying that you should master to play every single instrument you are ever going to write for, but you must at the very least get knowledge on that instrument.
Talk extensively with players, they'll love the interest you have in them and their instrument and you'll learn a great deal first hand. If possible, get the instrument in your hands, get the feel of it, preferably even try to play it, get to know the difficulties the instrumentalist faces. You'll learn easier and better why the fifth finger on a harp is not used by playing it, than by reading it in a book. If there really is no opportunity to talk to an instrumentalist, feel the instrument, play the instrument, then at least read the book. You'll never write five finger passages for a harp again, or a seven note chord on a guitar, or staccato on a harpsichord.
The computer will never tell you that certain passages, chords, notes simply can't be done, but the human player reading your music knows and will have an opinion on your writing right then and there. It's easier to gain a reputation than to get rid of one.

Rule of thumb: never ever write anything based on how it sounds on the computer. Know what you write, every single note.

Still, don't even start writing for other instruments than your own, before you know how to write in the first place. Acquire the skill of writing by writing for the instrument you know best: your own instrument. Only when you're confident that you're able to write music which has a head and a tail and a body that stands firmly, broaden your horizon and employ other instruments where needed. It is still preferable to only have written for one instrument exclusively, but written well, than to have written nonsense for every possible instrument and ensemble. Chopin has written very few compositions that are not for one piano exclusively and none that exclude the piano, yet he indisputably was an accomplished composer.

Another rule of thumb: don't start with an oil painting before you know how to draw.

More basic thoughts later.