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#1151937 - 03/10/08 03:57 PM Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
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Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
I'm trying to understand how criticism even has a role in composition. That is to say,

I personally think many people fail to make a distinction between the objective and the subjective. Thus, many hurt feelings are created when people's works are criticized.

If the composer starts out by saying: "I am choosing to apply the objectively observable traits of independence of voices (as defined by abundant use of thirds and sixths and their inversions) and the sonata allegro form, could you help me to adhere to these rules by making suggestions or criticisms?"

On the other hand, if the composer has absolutely no desire to adhere to any objective set of rules---what place does criticism have? What possible use could negative comments possibly be to the composer? I could imagine suggestions such as: "Why don't you try ADDING such and such" to the piece, but saying that you don't like a part of the piece or what not...

I just don't get it. How can it be useful? To ANYONE? It's never been useful to me...not once. That is to say, if someone says: "Take that out of the piece" it isn't very helpful, because I very well might have wanted it IN the piece, darn it. But if someone says: "Hey, why doncha try some more crazy rhythm and harmony" I think: "ya know what, that sounds like fun" and then I try it and I become a better composer.

So...tell me. How on earth can negative criticism possibly play a "positive" role in developing a composer? Other than perpetuating centuries of broken creative spirits taking out vengeance on the next generation, of course? =)

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#1151938 - 03/10/08 03:58 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
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Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
---

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#1151939 - 03/10/08 04:10 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
epf Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/07
Posts: 658
Loc: Central Texas
Criticism is not, used correctly, "negative" -- it's a detailed examination of something. Music can serve two diametrically opposed purposes: it can be used to entertain others or it can be written for the sole benefit and enjoyment of the composer. While these are not mutually exclusive, it seems that music written for the composer alone enjoys a smaller audience.

So, if someone suggests to you that a particular aspect of your music is not appealing (which would seem to be the message behind "remove it") then you know one of two things: at least one person does not like something you have chosen to put into your music and, you like it or you wouldn't have put it in there.

There are lots of ways to provide feedback. One is to say what you don't like (and this tends to be what you get from people who are asked what they think of your music without knowing you or your sensitivities). The other way is to suggest improvements (but, again, that's an improvement from the one hearing the music).

As someone who has been on both sides of this discussion (both as a performer and as a composer) I can tell you that it's necessary to develop a thick skin if you are to be successful.

Let's look at your example. Suppose I know what you are trying to accomplish and that you are writing music with a specific goal. Then I can say, if asked, I don't think you accomplished your goal. That's a simple but not terribly helpful answer -- it implies that I cannot frame a more powerful and cogent response (which may, indeed, be the case). Or, I could do a detailed analysis of your work (a "criticism") and show where you did and did not accomplish your goal. More helpful, but still doesn't tell you what you need to do to fix it.

The real question is why should I do your job for you? My job, as a listener, is to respond to what you write. I could make suggestions ("...you know, an Fm might work better here...") but that doesn't mean that I understand why you choose what you did or why an Fm was not the primary choice there. I might not hear what you hear.

Bottom line, even "negative criticism" has a place -- it lets you know that, for at least one person, you failed to make a piece of music stimulating/entertaining or whatever.

Ed
_________________________
"...a man ... should engage himself with the causes of the harmonious combination of sounds, and with the composition of music." Anatolius of Alexandria

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#1151940 - 03/10/08 04:15 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
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Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
Well that one person doesn't matter then. The composer is speaking to himself and anybody who happens to like it. Enjoyment of music is so intensely subjective that I just can't see the value of negative criticism...at all. It's like saying, "you know, the fact that you used a slightly bent spoon for eating your cereal this morning just doesn't do it for me."

For at least one person, myself, rap (in most cases) fails to entertain me. So does ensemble jazz. Would people who write such music find my criticism valuable? Hardly. On a smaller scale, people within the same genre will also find negative criticism useless. The musical landscape is just much too large for it to be otherwise.


I suppose, with the right attitude (which I posess) one can use any kind of criticism, negative or otherwise, to "think outside the box," however this relies on the recipient of the criticism being a particularly steely person in the face of harsh comments. I personally think this lends credence to the idea that the person criticizing may really be inflating their own ego rather than making a genuine attempt to help the composer in question develop. Maybe I'm wrong---but I've known of too many persons whose creative drives have been severely hampered by negative criticism to remain silent on the issue.

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#1151941 - 03/10/08 06:46 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zwischenzug Offline
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Registered: 01/28/08
Posts: 77
I don't necessarily think people say negative things in order to boost their ego.

I think the opposite is actually true. People share their work looking to boost their own ego. When you've come to finish a peice and you decide to share it, it's probably because you think you've done a wonderful job and you want everyone to pat you on the back and agree. "Whoa this is great!"..."You're so talented". I don't see how comments like that are helpful either if that isn't your real thoughts. If anything I think that's more damaging.

If you make music for yourself and don't want the opinions of other people than don't post it. If you post asking for opinions however, don't cry about it when you get one that you don't agree with.

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#1151942 - 03/11/08 06:57 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
JohnEB Offline
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Registered: 04/20/06
Posts: 754
Loc: Belgium
What's the purpose of musical composition? If the composer is writing for themselves, then no subjective criticism is worthwhile.

If the composer is trying to achieve some form of communication to anyone else, then surely subjective criticism on the impact of the composition on a listener is valuable to the composer, so that they can understand how their composition is perceived by others.

I might think my composition is perfect, but if no one else can stand to listen to it, then I've got a pretty big problem. And I'll only find that out by listening to criticism/remarks from other people.
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#1151943 - 03/11/08 08:28 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
epf Offline
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Registered: 11/13/07
Posts: 658
Loc: Central Texas
John,

Precisely what I was trying to say, and far more concisely!

Ed
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"...a man ... should engage himself with the causes of the harmonious combination of sounds, and with the composition of music." Anatolius of Alexandria

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#1151944 - 03/11/08 11:27 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
 Quote:
Originally posted by Zwischenzug:
I don't necessarily think people say negative things in order to boost their ego.

I think the opposite is actually true. People share their work looking to boost their own ego. When you've come to finish a peice and you decide to share it, it's probably because you think you've done a wonderful job and you want everyone to pat you on the back and agree. "Whoa this is great!"..."You're so talented". I don't see how comments like that are helpful either if that isn't your real thoughts. If anything I think that's more damaging.

If you make music for yourself and don't want the opinions of other people than don't post it. If you post asking for opinions however, don't cry about it when you get one that you don't agree with. [/b]
I suppose there are some individuals for whom not even a productive suggestion would be valuable--all they seek is admiration.

Regardless of the individual posting the composition, I still don't see how negative criticism can be useful.

This thread is about negative criticism---not whether someone ought to post a composition if they aren't prepared to take criticism.

I recognize that there are individuals who claim negative criticism is useful to them. However I remain skeptical even in those cases.

I can recall talking with some individuals on other forums who frequently post their work, get negative criticism, and then have a lull in creativity for months because of it. Then they meekly explain to me that it's good and they want the criticism. Personally I think this is outright masochism....throwing pearls to swine kind of thing. (where the swine are the critics). So---while I can see some individuals might have the right attitude and so forth...I still think the whole practice of negative criticism is ultimately unproductive and at worst, very damaging to certain individuals.

I have been fortunate enough not to have this happen to me in music...so when I see other individuals receive certain comments, I become skeptical and sincerely hope they can continue to create despite what is said to them.

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#1151945 - 03/11/08 11:27 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
8ude Offline
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Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 2050
Think of it this way - what's the point of hearing only critique that you want to hear? If you only want people to tell you how great you are, then it becomes meaningless. If you ever expect to learn and grow as a composer (or in any other discipline for that matter), you need to learn to accept feedback and criticism, take it in stride, and ultimately learn from it.

You think the great composers never had to deal with criticism? I can't remember the exact quote, but Haydn (or was it Albrechtsberger?) ripped Beethoven apart, saying "he'll never do anything in the proper style". Did Beethoven go off and pout in a corner? Hardly... Rubinstein completely ripped Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto to shreds - did he just give up? No, they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and did better the next time...
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#1151946 - 03/11/08 12:02 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 549
Loc: Southern Oregon
8ude is right. Critics can be wrong, of course, but that doesn't mean they're always wrong. A good teacher will both encourage and occasionally discourage a student and they are both useful functions if the student is willing to learn. If the student is too rebellious, that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong either, but it does mean that they will have to work doubly hard to develop taste and elegance on their own in their compositions and be darned convincing in their approach. Maybe "taste" is old an old fashioned term, but my main criticism of most new music (professional and amateur) is a lack of taste and a lack proportion and a lack of growth within a work. Unfortunately way too many people are satisfied with static work - work that goes nowhere and leads to no real conclusion, or worse still, bombastic displays of empty substance.

The best way to learn on your own is to listen to music that moves you and find out why it moves you. Personally, I love Tchaikovsky, the Finnish modernists of the 1920s, Scriabin and others. In the last few years I've come to know Rameau's operas and have been so often in awe of how that man could accomplish so much in his music with the least effort. And much of his work points 100 years and farther into the future. He was a visionary, and sometimes severely criticized. Even when he was famous such criticism would sometimes lead him to write new parts into his operas - and take some out.

Sorry for the rambling.
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#1151947 - 03/11/08 05:25 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Steve Chandler Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2629
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
 Quote:
Originally posted by Zom:
I can recall talking with some individuals on other forums who frequently post their work, get negative criticism, and then have a lull in creativity for months because of it. Then they meekly explain to me that it's good and they want the criticism. Personally I think this is outright masochism....throwing pearls to swine kind of thing. (where the swine are the critics). So---while I can see some individuals might have the right attitude and so forth...I still think the whole practice of negative criticism is ultimately unproductive and at worst, very damaging to certain individuals.
[/b]
I haven't been around much, but did post some less than positive comment recently so this whole thread may be about me. Please correct me if I'm wrong (not that I really care).

I've been on both sides of this as well. I've worked with a composers who made suggestions, but frankly their suggestions didn't sit well with me. More recently I've worked with a local composer who looked over a choral piece of mine and about 90% of his negative comments were spot on. Some of his comments were of the "this part doesn't really suit the text well" variety. Others were of the "I don't think this melody is strong enough" variety. Others had to do with structure, harmony, voice leading. In other words I was paying for his comments and really felt I was getting my money's worth! I was thrilled!!!!!! I'm proud of the piece that resulted and yes it will have my name on it, but in my heart I'll give a lot of credit to Ben Allaway. He kicked my butt and the result was a far superior piece of music.

Some of the comments in this thread lead me to believe that some of you think that your initial effort is your truest expression. It may be that, but that doesn't mean it's effective music. C'mon guys you've got to be self critical and be willing to accept criticism from others. I liked epf's comment about doing the work for you. You'll get far better criticism if you're taking lessons and paying for them. Certainly superior to posting here. But if you do post here accept that you may hear opinions that are at odds with your own, otherwise why post, to collect attaboys???

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#1151948 - 03/11/08 08:09 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
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Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
Let me describe where I am coming from. I personally believe that criticism, as you are rightly pointing out, CAN be valuable if the person receiving and indeed ASKING for the criticism has the right attitude. I don't think that's a bad thing at all.

However, when neither party is aware of what could happen, in other words, say the composer happens to be a kid who is used to being encouraged, and comes to a forum and gets criticized. He had no idea that was going to happen, and it might really hurt his creative drive.

This happened to me when I was 16---thankfully not in music. I got on the internet, posted my work (quite naively) and got intense criticism. Add to that that the critics themselves rarely, if ever, posted their work, a trend that I find fairly common in music forums as well. Even though they didn't post their work, I was very hurt by their comments and found it difficult to be inspired for a long time.

Later on, when I was about 17, I began studying music and piano on my own. I took a few guitar lessons, which consisted entirely of encouragement and basically making me aware I was allowed to explore music entirely on my own. This really set me on fire and I started to teach myself scales on the piano...the rest is history and now I can't imagine my life without spontaneous creation of piano music. Throughout my development of that hobby I also had the good fortune of receiving encouragement and suggestions (with honest observations of where my music was lacking) throughout, and I'm sure my music is better because of it.

All without a single comment that suggested my music was bad, or not strong, or not notable or any other unnecessary remarks (in my opinion).

So, I don't mean to project my own experience on everyone else, but I do perceive that every so often on internet forums, the people posting their work do not know what to expect (and may naively expect encouragement or praise), and the critics are not sensitive enough to realize they might be talking to a young person who might be hurt by their comments. I just think the entire concept of receiving criticism on an internet forum is flawed. I think criticism should only be doled out with caution, and only by request.

And EVEN THEN, I think it can be done without any unnecessary negatives.

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#1151949 - 03/11/08 08:37 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 549
Loc: Southern Oregon
Zom, when I listen to works posted here I do take into account at least what I perceive is the background and likely training of the person posting. I haven't been overwhelmed by anything I've heard so far and much of it sounds like beginning steps, but not always. A lot of it shows a real desire to "get it right" and it takes some bravery to post something for all to hear. So far I've only posted one piece, but I've been trying to finish another piece I'd like to post. My problem with it is the very ending is causing me a lot of grief and I keep trying to get it a little more "right". I'm hoping people like it, but if not, I'll just listen to any comments and see if they help me or not.
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#1151950 - 03/11/08 09:52 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Jeanne W Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/28/04
Posts: 1240
Loc: New England
 Quote:
Originally posted by Zom:
I'm trying to understand how criticism even has a role in composition....

So...tell me. How on earth can negative criticism possibly play a "positive" role in developing a composer? Other than perpetuating centuries of broken creative spirits taking out vengeance on the next generation, of course? =) [/b]
 Quote:
Originally posted by epf:
Criticism is not, used correctly, "negative" -- it's a detailed examination of something.

[/b]
Couple of comments...

I think there is a distinction between the words "critique" and "criticism".

According to Microsoft Word:

"Critique" = analysis, assessment, evaluation, account, review, appraisal. The word "criticize" is also included as a synonym for critique, but I think that's meant in the sense as analysis rather than dissapproval. Critique, then, is a wholly neutral word.

"Criticism" can mean all of the above, but in addition it may also mean censure; disapproval, disparagement, condemnation, denigration. Those are negative in nature. For that reason, I think a lot of people consider "criticism" to have a negative connotation, at least more so than a "critique. A critique could point out both strengths and weaknesses.

I think a balanced critique pointing out a composition's strengths (assuming, hopefully, there are some) along with specific suggestions to fix percieved weaknesses, would be very helpful.

The hardest thing about composing is, there are rules, but the rules are made to be broken. And there is no boiler plate one size fits all form into which we can - or should - fit every piece of music. The more creative you are, the more musical ideas you have, the harder it is to fit your music all together.

I just read an article about Quincy Jones. He studied with Nadia Boulanger who taught Aaron Copland and Philip Glass. She told Jones:

"The more boundaries you set, the more freedom you have."

Jones says:

"I didn't want to hear that, man, but she's right."

My question is the same as someone else once asked here, where exactly are these boundaries and rules written? Are they in black and white or unwritten? Where can we find "do this, don't do that" / "this is right" "this is wrong" ??? As I recall, that person never got a real answer to that question.

Jeanne W
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#1151951 - 03/11/08 10:28 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
 Quote:


"The more boundaries you set, the more freedom you have."

Jones says:

"I didn't want to hear that, man, but she's right."

My question is the same as someone else once asked here, where exactly are these boundaries and rules written? Are they in black and white or unwritten? Where can we find "do this, don't do that" / "this is right" "this is wrong" ??? As I recall, that person never got a real answer to that question.

Jeanne W [/QB]
Precisely. There aren't any boundaries, or rules. Do you suppose the people who wrote the books about 4 part harmony had any rule books to consult? It all stems from certain ideals. And it is only if the composer explicitly strives for those ideals that there is anything even approaching a "rule" for writing music. And it can be debated all day whether certain ideals (such as 4 part harmony) really do contribute to the musical effectiveness of a piece. If you're TRYING to sound exactly like Mozart then yeah...those rules would be helpful. But if you're just composing to write beautiful music---they're worth just about as much as toe clippings in the garbage can.

I'm not sure if I agree with boundaries creating freedom. I think it is FUN sometimes to create boundaries for myself (that is, choosing to create rules for myself), but I generally find I am the most creative when I don't consider any rules at all. It is interesting to alternate between the two states of mind. But I would never want to remain squarely in the "rules" camp for long, I don't think. Especially because there are simply no objective bases for such rules. They are all nonsense---they are basically just games. "Let's see how many thirds and sixths we can shovel into an ABACA mould!" You know? I think it's silly personally. But fun with the right mindset.

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#1151952 - 03/12/08 08:40 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
epf Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/07
Posts: 658
Loc: Central Texas
The funny thing is that there have been books of "rules" over time. Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum provided the rules for composing counterpoint. This was used by Leopold Mozart to train his son, Wolfgang. Beethoven used it and actually wrote a summary of it for his students. Haydn and Brahms both used it and their annotated copies of Fux's work can still be found in museums. Rameau wrote about the difference between harmony and counterpoint providing instruction and "rules."

Having boundaries is not a bad thing. We work within certain constraints because that is what allows what we write to be considered "music" as opposed to random notes or noise. But, when we know the rules we also know when we can break them and what effect breaking the rules will have on the listener. Even atonal or serial music has "rules" -- albeit very few.

If, as some assert, music is "organized sound" then it's important that the organization be what the brain perceives as music.

Ed
_________________________
"...a man ... should engage himself with the causes of the harmonious combination of sounds, and with the composition of music." Anatolius of Alexandria

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#1151953 - 03/12/08 08:46 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
JohnEB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/20/06
Posts: 754
Loc: Belgium
There's a big difference with criticism in a forum like this and criticism from someone you are standing talking to.

It's a sad fact that if I don't know the person I'm criticizing, and I believe I'll probably never meet them, then I'm far more likely to be tough in my criticism. That's why flame wars blow up in forums over seemingly trivial matters: if you don't have any personal engagement with the person you're dealing with you will be much more forceful. So I think criticism on the internet is very different to criticism in real life.

Certainly if you have the chance, then taking account someone's background is helpful in delivering criticism in way which the receiver will listen to and understand. Again, that's not always possible on a forum such as this.

Of course, helpful criticism is more likely to be accepted and therefore to have a positive affect than negative criticism. But as others have pointed out, I don't think that means there is no place for negative criticism.

Some creations are just bad, or don't move me, or don't do anything for me, or sound terrible, and it may be difficult for me (or someone else acting as a critic) to explain exactly why. If someone posts something here which I find really juvenile or simplistic, or just plain rubbish, then I won't respond as personally I don't think it would be beneficial to do so. However there's no point allowing someone to think there compositions are wonderful if they plainly aren't, so some time, someone or other has to give some pretty tough feedback, hopefully in a way which will be accepted.
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#1151954 - 03/12/08 10:28 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
Steve Chandler Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2629
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
 Quote:
Originally posted by Zom:
There aren't any boundaries, or rules. Do you suppose the people who wrote the books about 4 part harmony had any rule books to consult? It all stems from certain ideals. And it is only if the composer explicitly strives for those ideals that there is anything even approaching a "rule" for writing music. And it can be debated all day whether certain ideals (such as 4 part harmony) really do contribute to the musical effectiveness of a piece. If you're TRYING to sound exactly like Mozart then yeah...those rules would be helpful. But if you're just composing to write beautiful music---they're worth just about as much as toe clippings in the garbage can.[/b]
If you choose to ignore the boundaries and rules as they've been laid out in countless music theory books that's a choice you make. As someone who's composed classical and pop style music I would argue that it's foolish to ignore this information (BTW, go ahead and follow the links in my sig and listen to my music). The rules of voice leading have nothing to do with sounding like Mozart or Bach and have everything to do with composing music that's both effective and elegant. So Rule for breaking the music theory rules #1. If you don't want to sound elegant go ahead and break the rules. An example might be if you're composing a storm scene into a piece, lots of parallel fifths might be very effective in highlighting the drama of such a moment. However, you specifically mentioned composing beautiful music. Composers have been striving to write beauty into their music from the beginning of music. Music History tells us that humans have come to the conclusion that Parallel fifths are, in general, not beautiful, so they are to be avoided. Parallel octaves are a bit different, in composing vocal harmonies they are to be avoided because if they're not perfectly in tune they're ugly, but in instrumental music (where intonation is less of achallenge) it's viewed as one instrument doubling another to highlight a harmonic.

What's obvious to me is that you are interested in composing music, but have eschewed formal training because it might limit your freedom. Which brings me to point #2.
 Quote:

I'm not sure if I agree with boundaries creating freedom. I think it is FUN sometimes to create boundaries for myself (that is, choosing to create rules for myself), but I generally find I am the most creative when I don't consider any rules at all. It is interesting to alternate between the two states of mind. But I would never want to remain squarely in the "rules" camp for long, I don't think. Especially because there are simply no objective bases for such rules. They are all nonsense---they are basically just games. "Let's see how many thirds and sixths we can shovel into an ABACA mould!" You know? I think it's silly personally. But fun with the right mindset. [/b]
What's obvious is that you haven't actually tried the rules camp. You're too busy trying to evaluate the "Objective basis" (note spelling correction) for the rules. It is your opinion that there is no objective basis for such rules, but 4+ centuries of music history would argue otherwise. And yet the presence of such rules has not in any way impeded the evolution of music. Numerous composers have developed their own individual methods for adhereing to and breaking "the Rulz." I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases the process of learning to break "the Rulz" began with learning them.

As for the concept of freedom, think about it. A blank page and no Rulz is almost intimidating. The moment you write anything down you begin limiting your choices, whether by the key or style of music or whatever. The very act of notating music impacts your available choices for the music to follow. It's entirely possible to write a pastiche that includes snippets that sound like Bach, Mozart, Chopin, the Beatles, Disturbed, Fifty Cent, Michael Jackson and Scriabin. Just that combination might have some entertainment value as humor, but such divergent styles would probably not lend themselves to crafting a great piece of music. So can you see how unbridled freedom gets in the way of making music?

Now here's a final thought. Most times when a kid comes here talking about freedom to follow their muse, that muse is actually quite small and limited. Their experience of music is generally rather narrow, maybe some Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, plus whatever the flavor of the day in popular music is. So my advice is start listening outside your comfort zone. Listen to the composers who pushed the envelope in their day, Cesar Franck, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Randall Stroope, William Schuman, Elliot Carter, Xenakis and many more. Listen to the last two and you may be asking yourself "Is there such a thing as too much freedom??"

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#1151955 - 03/12/08 11:00 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 549
Loc: Southern Oregon
Steve, don't forget John Cage. I predict that within 10 years not only will his music not be played, but he will become the poster child for wild, extravagant musical elitism that more or less ran its course by the end of the 1990s. Except for that I believe he will be quickly forgotten.
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#1151956 - 03/12/08 04:54 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Steve Chandler Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2629
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
 Quote:
Originally posted by ScottM:
Steve, don't forget John Cage. I predict that within 10 years not only will his music not be played, but he will become the poster child for wild, extravagant musical elitism that more or less ran its course by the end of the 1990s. Except for that I believe he will be quickly forgotten. [/b]
Oh I don't know. The prepared pianos pieces have an appeal to them. As for the real chance music I'd probably agree, but sometimes you see something like this and it's just an engaging experience. But there are no strong melodies to be heard in this segment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8E_KbRsKrI

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#1151957 - 03/12/08 08:45 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
I have no interest in continuing this exercise in Babel-like confusion, but I thought I'd point out that basis does in fact have a plural: "bases." Check a dictionary before you correct someone's spelling again, Steve. I thought you liked books that had rules in them?

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#1151958 - 03/12/08 11:07 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
MissT Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/20/07
Posts: 100
Loc: Quebec, Quebec
A forum is a very harsh place to look for criticism, you cannot see the other's eye briefly close as he enjoy your music, you cannot see the smile on his face as he write his comment and search hard to find the little things that could guide you in improving yourself. Because if you ask for criticism, it's because you want to improve. right?

The best we can do to receive constructive criticism is to speak out what you seek for at the very beginning. But there is so much subtle thing in the way a piece is constructed that, even with the best attitude of all, a critic's commentary will necessary be a bit off track. It's up to the creator to pick what suits him, and what's not. If you cannot do that, don't seek out advice, you'll end up disappointed no matter what.

They say "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger", I believe it so much I made a movie about that (you can see it on my podcast if you understand french). Even some critics that I thought plain wrong helped me understand my own creation. If I ever post for criticism on this forum, feel free to tell what you really think without restrain .

Even if you can make objective statement about a piece, there is no such thing as objective appreciation in music as we do art and not engineering.

Note: I really liked the performance on Steve's video, does that make me an elitist? I've seen similar performances in music festivals and I must say I trully like the style.
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Grotrian-Steinweg 160 #98923

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#1151959 - 03/14/08 04:27 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
I think John Cage is amusing. I can see how it'd be fun to actually participate in one of his "compositions" but I find it difficult to take him seriously as a composer in the musical sense. He says in the beginning of the video: "I consider music to be the production of sound, and since I am producing sound, I would call it music" or something to that effect.

In my opinion, to say that music is simply "the production of sound" obscures the meaning of the word, music. Suddenly the word "music" becomes synonymous with: "Clapping," "Burping," "Talking," and any other word whose base meaning is the production of sound. Now how are we to describe the kind of sound made by humans, for humans, for its own sake?

So while I think John Cage is "fun" and certainly was an interesting person, I just can't place him in the same category as composers who write for actual musical instruments. I also can't quite understand why anyone would take recordings of his music seriously. I'd rather actually be amongst the performers, myself. It'd be like being in a playground, or something, making fun sounds. Maybe I'm just uneducated and not deep enough or something, I don't know. I'll let the resident pedants correct my erroneous thinking.

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#1151960 - 03/14/08 04:33 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Zom Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/07
Posts: 73
Loc: United States
 Quote:
Originally posted by Steve Chandler:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Zom:
There aren't any boundaries, or rules. Do you suppose the people who wrote the books about 4 part harmony had any rule books to consult? It all stems from certain ideals. And it is only if the composer explicitly strives for those ideals that there is anything even approaching a "rule" for writing music. And it can be debated all day whether certain ideals (such as 4 part harmony) really do contribute to the musical effectiveness of a piece. If you're TRYING to sound exactly like Mozart then yeah...those rules would be helpful. But if you're just composing to write beautiful music---they're worth just about as much as toe clippings in the garbage can.[/b]
If you choose to ignore the boundaries and rules as they've been laid out in countless music theory books that's a choice you make. As someone who's composed classical and pop style music I would argue that it's foolish to ignore this information (BTW, go ahead and follow the links in my sig and listen to my music). The rules of voice leading have nothing to do with sounding like Mozart or Bach and have everything to do with composing music that's both effective and elegant. So Rule for breaking the music theory rules #1. If you don't want to sound elegant go ahead and break the rules. An example might be if you're composing a storm scene into a piece, lots of parallel fifths might be very effective in highlighting the drama of such a moment. However, you specifically mentioned composing beautiful music. Composers have been striving to write beauty into their music from the beginning of music. Music History tells us that humans have come to the conclusion that Parallel fifths are, in general, not beautiful, so they are to be avoided. Parallel octaves are a bit different, in composing vocal harmonies they are to be avoided because if they're not perfectly in tune they're ugly, but in instrumental music (where intonation is less of achallenge) it's viewed as one instrument doubling another to highlight a harmonic.

What's obvious to me is that you are interested in composing music, but have eschewed formal training because it might limit your freedom. Which brings me to point #2.
 Quote:

I'm not sure if I agree with boundaries creating freedom. I think it is FUN sometimes to create boundaries for myself (that is, choosing to create rules for myself), but I generally find I am the most creative when I don't consider any rules at all. It is interesting to alternate between the two states of mind. But I would never want to remain squarely in the "rules" camp for long, I don't think. Especially because there are simply no objective bases for such rules. They are all nonsense---they are basically just games. "Let's see how many thirds and sixths we can shovel into an ABACA mould!" You know? I think it's silly personally. But fun with the right mindset. [/b]
What's obvious is that you haven't actually tried the rules camp. You're too busy trying to evaluate the "Objective basis" (note spelling correction) for the rules. It is your opinion that there is no objective basis for such rules, but 4+ centuries of music history would argue otherwise. And yet the presence of such rules has not in any way impeded the evolution of music. Numerous composers have developed their own individual methods for adhereing to and breaking "the Rulz." I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases the process of learning to break "the Rulz" began with learning them.

As for the concept of freedom, think about it. A blank page and no Rulz is almost intimidating. The moment you write anything down you begin limiting your choices, whether by the key or style of music or whatever. The very act of notating music impacts your available choices for the music to follow. It's entirely possible to write a pastiche that includes snippets that sound like Bach, Mozart, Chopin, the Beatles, Disturbed, Fifty Cent, Michael Jackson and Scriabin. Just that combination might have some entertainment value as humor, but such divergent styles would probably not lend themselves to crafting a great piece of music. So can you see how unbridled freedom gets in the way of making music?

Now here's a final thought. Most times when a kid comes here talking about freedom to follow their muse, that muse is actually quite small and limited. Their experience of music is generally rather narrow, maybe some Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, plus whatever the flavor of the day in popular music is. So my advice is start listening outside your comfort zone. Listen to the composers who pushed the envelope in their day, Cesar Franck, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Randall Stroope, William Schuman, Elliot Carter, Xenakis and many more. Listen to the last two and you may be asking yourself "Is there such a thing as too much freedom??" [/b]
I haven't eschewed formal training, I had 3 years of piano study with the top piano professor at my university. I wasn't an actual music student, but nonetheless I have had formal training at least in piano playing. While I haven't had a formal teacher in composition, I have read several music theory books (including Schoenberg's Theory of Harmony), websites, and have gathered information from the internet. That said though, I find what I've learned just on my own by ear, and from friends on the internet who also improvise to be far more useful with regards to making good music---that's been my individual experience anyway.

I have often toyed with improvising based on 4 part harmony and its rules such as parallel fifths, not doubling the leading tone, etc. I find it quite easy to do. That said, when I contrast pieces I've recorded where I've explicitly set out to follow the rules, or ignored them, not only can I not tell when I am or am not following the rules, I generally find that the rules have little or no impact on how elegant or beautiful the resulting sound is. Would you be able to spot doubling the leading tone or using parallel fifths just by ear? If so I find that very impressive, because I certainly can't (unless it is a passage of say, parallel open fifths and they are a defining feature of the piece).

Also, personally I find absolute total freedom completely unintimidating. Nor do I find rules intimidating...I just consider them an option.

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#1151961 - 03/16/08 04:06 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
Jeanne W Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/28/04
Posts: 1240
Loc: New England
Zom, Steve:

Interesting posts. My contention is if you learn the rules and accepted conventions, you subconsciously tend to write in those ways, whether you realize it or not.

I believe there are advantages to learning and composing music in the conventional manner, but the also can be advantages in remaining unschooled, at least to an extent, and writing in an unconventional manner. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Steve, you probably won't agree with this?

Zom: You say the rules have little or no impact on how elegant or beautiful the resulting sound is. I'm very interested in hearing opinions on this from those in the "conventional camp."

Zom, you also question whether leading tones and parallel fifths can be spotted by ear. Your questions parallels something I've been wondering about but didn't know how to express well. If the resulting music is elegant or beautiful or pleasing sounding, what's the difference if it has parallel fifths or ...whatever.

Well, I suppose the "difference" is, the music can be criticized for not adhering to the "rules". But the irony is everyone says the rules are made to be broken. \:D

If everyone agrees that the rules are made to be broken, and the rules are broken for a "purpose" and result in what many consider to be beautiful music, is that music "good"?

If on the other hand, the rules are broken due to ignorance of the rules and the result is what many consider to be beautiful music, is the music any less "good"?

If the music succeeds, does it make a difference if the person who broke the rules did so knowingly, or unknowingly due to lack of knowledge?

Does/should the answer to the above questions depend on whether the person breaking the rules is deemed to be worthy of breaking the rules? Or on the effect the music has?

Maybe the way to go (whether to learn all of the conventions or not) is best determined by which route results in the highest incidence of "successful" music: knowledge of and use of the conventional rules vs. the other route ???

We could ponder these questions forever, and in fact, we've been talking about this for a while here on this forum. Will we ever all come to an agreement on this subject? I don't think so!

Jeanne W
_________________________
Music is about the heart and so should a piano be about the heart. - Pique

1920 Steinway A3
My Piano Delivery Thread:
http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/1/8776.html#000000

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#1151962 - 03/16/08 06:17 AM Re: Criticism of compositions
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5834
Loc: Down Under
Let's not forget that "rules" of harmony, voice leading etc, are not instructions to be followed but descriptions of compositional practice of a certain era. Traditional 4-part harmony and its "rules" will end up with you producing (if you're skilful) something that could perhaps have been a Bach chorale harmonisation (maybe on one of his off days \:\) ). This is hardly the standard harmonic vocabulary of 20th, 21st century music. (And not of most 19th century music while we're at it). And of course, even Bach broke these "rules" that have been distilled from his writing of chorales. (eg leading note should proceed to tonic - take any Bach chorale at random and you've got a pretty good chance of finding this "rule" broken in the alto part at the final cadence).

We learn these things in order to understand ways in which music works, and to learn a certain facility in writing. If you think that instruction in composition is purely learning and abiding by rules, then you have the wrong idea.

I also have to disagree that learning rules and conventions means you necessarily (even if unconsciously) write in this way, and the best way to avoid this is to remain "unschooled". I can't see why knowledge is something to be feared. Should novelists avoid reading and examining the works of Jane Austen lest they be unable to then produce anything but a pale imitation of Pride and Prejudice? Why should skill be a threat to spontaneity? I just don't follow the argument.

Jeanne, you also seem to be assuming that those who are not schooled in the conventions are the only ones who write "unconventional" music. This is just obviously not true.
You may not want to study harmony and counterpoint. Your choice. But don't think that by so doing you are necessarily bestowing on yourself any advantage.

And my thoughts on the original question? I have benefited from criticism of my work on many occasions. If I didn't want to hear any negative feedback, then I think I wouldn't ask for feedback at all.
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#1151963 - 03/16/08 01:17 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
Jeanne W Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/28/04
Posts: 1240
Loc: New England
 Quote:
Originally posted by currawong:
Let's not forget that "rules" of harmony, voice leading etc, are not instructions to be followed but descriptions of compositional practice of a certain era. ...
[/b]
Yes, but from the sounds of it, many consider these kinds of things rules, and base critiques upon them, use them as grounds to blast other composer's work.


 Quote:
Originally posted by currawong:
We learn these things in order to understand ways in which music works, and to learn a certain facility in writing. If you think that instruction in composition is purely learning and abiding by rules, then you have the wrong idea.
[/b]
Very well said. No, I don't think instruction in composition necessarily is purely learning and abiding by the rules, but some here have posted they've encountered this in the learning institution they are attending. If I recall correctly, even after demonstrating to their teacher they understood and were capable of executing compositions in the conventional way, but had purposefully deviated from the wanted method to achieve a certain purpose, they were given a bad grade and disciplined.

 Quote:
Originally posted by currawong:
I also have to disagree that learning rules and conventions means you necessarily (even if unconsciously) write in this way, and the best way to avoid this is to remain "unschooled". I can't see why knowledge is something to be feared. Should novelists avoid reading and examining the works of Jane Austen lest they be unable to then produce anything but a pale imitation of Pride and Prejudice? Why should skill be a threat to spontaneity? I just don't follow the argument. [/b]
I don't think knowledge is to be feared, but it certainly has an effect. I do believe everything we encounter and especially things we take time to learn about, continues to knock about in our subconscious and may therefore manifest itself, whether we realize it or not. Is that necessarily true for every person. Maybe not. But it's likely that it will.

 Quote:
Originally posted by currawong:
Jeanne, you also seem to be assuming that those who are not schooled in the conventions are the only ones who write "unconventional" music. This is just obviously not true.
You may not want to study harmony and counterpoint. Your choice. But don't think that by so doing you are necessarily bestowing on yourself any advantage.

[/b]
Oh, no! I certainly don't believe that only those who are not schooled in the conventions are the only ones who write unconventional music!

What I'm trying to say...

I believe, generally speaking, for most people, learning the conventional methods is the best route to take; however, I also believe...

in some instances, for certain people, there may be a greater advantage in not learning the conventions. It may be more advantageous for these types to stay unschooled. It allows them the freedom to think musically in original, unconventional ways that would otherwise have been "stamped out of them" by their education. These people are probably rare cases, but they do exist. (I'm not saying I'm one of them.)

And for some people, it means the difference between making any music at all. (Those who couldn't abide by the conventions, got the life stamped out of them, and gave up altogether.)

I am reminded of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Less Travelled." The problem with what I'm talking about, is a person can only take one road, not two.

Jeanne W
_________________________
Music is about the heart and so should a piano be about the heart. - Pique

1920 Steinway A3
My Piano Delivery Thread:
http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/1/8776.html#000000

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#1151964 - 03/16/08 04:32 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5834
Loc: Down Under
Originally posted by Jeanne W:
I do believe everything we encounter and especially things we take time to learn about, continues to knock about in our subconscious and may therefore manifest itself, whether we realize it or not. Is that necessarily true for every person. Maybe not. But it's likely that it will.[/b]

I hear what you're saying. In fact, it's obvious. Our learning will manifest itself - I mean that's why we do it. But I think this happens purely by listening too, doesn't it? And no-one is suggesting we avoid that. I just don't think that knowing how something works is likely to taint your creativity. In my composition course (many moons ago) we had to churn out lots of music in lots of different styles. I was particularly good at the mock Schubert song, no doubt because I knew so many of them. But do I write in the style of Schubert? Am I tempted to? Well, no. But certain things I will gladly take from Schubert - the interplay of vocal line and accompaniment, the emotional power of the melodic line - if this is influence, then I'm influenced. But of course my music doesn't sound like Schubert. \:\)

I believe, generally speaking, for most people, learning the conventional methods is the best route to take; however, I also believe...
in some instances, for certain people, there may be a greater advantage in not learning the conventions. It may be more advantageous for these types to stay unschooled. It allows them the freedom to think musically in original, unconventional ways that would otherwise have been "stamped out of them" by their education. These people are probably rare cases, but they do exist. (I'm not saying I'm one of them.)[/b]

Just to reiterate - I don't see harmony & counterpoint as "methods", and certainly not "methods for composition".

I am in total agreement with your opinion of courses which stamp out creativity and individuality in the name of teaching "rules" of composition. Surely they distinguish between what is a harmony exercise and what is a compositional project??? If not, then I'm just as opposed as you. Music courses which "stamp out" anything sound particularly nasty to me! We probably agree much more than we seem to \:\)
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Du holde Kunst...

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#1151965 - 03/16/08 06:13 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 549
Loc: Southern Oregon
Don't be so obsessed with originality. Quality comes first. Originality will follow - as long as it's not forced.
_________________________
Scott

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#1151966 - 03/16/08 07:24 PM Re: Criticism of compositions
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5834
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by ScottM:
Don't be so obsessed with originality. Quality comes first. Originality will follow - as long as it's not forced. [/b]
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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