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#1152804 - 07/11/07 11:46 PM Question on learning compostion.....
Mike090280 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 159
Loc: Texas
How would one go about learning to compose. I am very interested in it, but I can't go to school or get a teacher, so I need to try on my own for now. I have a couple of theory books and a musical form and analysis book that I am going though. Can anyone recommend any other books on composing, or any tips in general?

I am interested in writting classical, mostly piano music, but would also like to try other types of instruments as well.

Thanks

Mike

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#1152805 - 07/12/07 12:10 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
8ude Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 2050
Books are good for learning theory, but I found the best way to compose is simply to do it. Start with some small works, try to have others evaluate them and give you honest feedback, then try to learn from them and do your next ones better.

There are bound to be "failures" along the way, but learn from each piece and eventually you'll be getting more adept at composition. I would still look at the books you have and try to glean some information from them - the theory is still very useful - just don't expect a theory book to automatically make you into a composer.

As I'm sure you're aware - everyone here in the composers lounge is always willing to look at scores and provide feedback, provided you're willing to share. I look forward to seeing some of your work.
_________________________
What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.

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#1152806 - 07/12/07 04:57 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
mahlzeit Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/06
Posts: 1910
Loc: Netherlands
http://gliving.tv/shows/composting-101-with-g-living-the-roots/

Anyway...

1) Pick a scale, learn the I, IV and V chords and use them to harmonize your melodies.

2) Steal from other people. Take something simple from Bach and change it around.
_________________________
No idea what chords you are playing? Reverse Chord Finder Pro will tell you!

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#1152807 - 07/12/07 07:17 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
Mike090280 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 159
Loc: Texas
Thanks everyone. I guess I will just start trying to write something. I do have a lot of ideas but have a little problem writting them down. Notating rythms, time signatures,ect. Thats where the theory and structure come in right?

Well, thanks again for the help, hope to show you all something soon.

Mike

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#1152808 - 07/12/07 09:14 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13792
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Don't forget to listen to a lot of music and do a lot of score study.

Every good composer I know studies scores constantly, listens to everything they can get their hands on, and attends concerts often.

Good writers read. Good composers listen.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1152809 - 07/12/07 03:48 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
193866 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 777
Loc: Manassas,Va
Sandy B. here... Senior citizen member. Some people use a known song to begin with and follow the format. Then as time goes by use more and more advanced selections. I studied with a Dr. Green in the community college, non-credit. He taught popular song composition.The fee was only $50.00 and we had to compose songs. Dr. Green told us this."My dad could not afford to send me to college. I worked my way though college composing songs ,with words, for commericals. TV. and radio and I made much money." He told us he made a small fortune. The college even set up a small studio for him to compose and record in, etc. How he got started? He told us he hired a Public Relations Co. to market his songs. They did all the work. They did not charge him anything until they sold his first commercial. They only charged him after that when they sold a commerical for him and they sold many he stated. Good luck. Signing off. Sandy B
_________________________
Sandra M. Boletchek 08/02/06

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#1152810 - 07/12/07 04:16 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
8ude Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 2050
If you're having trouble with the actual notation, one technique that I've used and found to be quite useful is to simply copy a score by hand. It may sound like a stupid exercise, but it gives you experience in the mechanics of writing notes. Also, you will start to notice things that you may not have seen simply by glancing at the score.

I once copied the piano part of Beethoven's first concerto out and I found it to be a very rewarding experience. Yes it took a long time and yes I could have just as easily shelled out a few bucks for the score, but it was the process that was rewarding. It made me much more adept at notation, and at being able to look at a score and "hear" it in my head. It also helped me tremendously with my sight-reading. If you can write music well, then reading it becomes much much easier.
_________________________
What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.

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#1152811 - 07/12/07 04:30 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
8ude Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 2050
Oh, and I could not agree more with Kreisler's recommendation to listen to lots of music - and not just have it playing in the background, but listen critically to it.

Try to understand what the composer is doing. Listen for key changes as that can help you learn about how different keys inter-relate with one another. For example, in the Waldstein Sonata, Beethoven modulates from the tonic to the mediant - not the most common of modulations. However, such was Beethoven's genius that the audience doesn't really even notice that he started in C and all of a sudden is now in E. Listening for things like that can help you learn effective ways to modulate.

Also, listen for motifs and how they are used. Obvious examples of this are in Bach fugues - listen to how he takes a theme and plays with it via techniques such as stretto, augmentation, diminution, inversion, retrograde, etc... The motif need not be melodic either - consider Beethoven's 5th symphony. Every movement makes considerable use of the rythmic motif of short-short-short-long. By listening for these things, you can learn some ways to develop your thematic material, and also learn ways to unify your piece as a whole.

Those are only a couple suggestions of things to listen for, there are many others.
_________________________
What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.

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#1152812 - 07/19/07 01:54 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
superlocrian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/30/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Dallas, TX
My Jazz Arranging teacher years ago once said, and I quote: "Good composers borrow; Great composers steal"

Listen, study scores, and emulate. All great composers have done this.

You might get Fux's "Gradus ad Parnassum" edited by Mann. It is a book in 18th century style counterpoint that Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven used. You might find it outdated, but it is fun nevertheless. We actually have a copy of Mozart's book with his corrections of his exercizes. Very interesting.

BTW, if you know a bit about Theory, another composition exercise is to just write out a scale ascending or descending and harmonize each note in a way that makes some kind of sense from a functional harmony perspective.

Another exercize is to take a note, presumably the melody to your piece, and harmonize it various ways. For example, take the note C and make it the root of a major or minor triad or 7th chord. Then try it as the 3rd (chord is now Ab). Then try the C as the 5th (of F). Then the dominant or major 7th (D7 or Db major). Then as the 9th (chord is now Bb or Bb7). Then as the #11 of a dominant (of F#7#11). It could be a sus4, a 13th, an added 2, the choices are abundant. You get the idea. The point is, this exercize might open up chord options that you might not have considered otherwise. Only a few of the options will actually sound good in the context of the piece you are working on, but you might get some interesting ideas that way. Listen to Elvis's "Love Me Tender"- that static pitch in the bridge is reharmonized in this way.

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#1152813 - 08/11/07 06:45 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
ZeroZero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/07
Posts: 225
Loc: UK
Talking of listening, I have a concept called "layered listening" which I use to teach how to analyse songs. It involves repeated listening to a song going for different aspects of its design.
First listen to the whole song and identify its parts - is there an intro - how many measures, then is it AABA or some other structure. Obviously identify it's time signature.
Then listen to the bass line and identify the figures that the bass is playing. What beats are being emphasised. Look for instruments that are playing chords - guitar piano etc. Identify any key changes and which chords are being used in each section. Identify lead lines such as vocals, lead melody instruments know where they come in and go out. Write it all down - don't necessarily go for writing out a score any visual graphic which conveyes to you what is going on is fine.
If you have trouble getting to grips with a particular passage use your mind - this is a wonderful tool for slowing down the pssage. Listen to the passage so that it is singing in your head like that ad jingle you just can't forget, then go to the piano and pick out the notes used. Your mind will be able to slow down the passage until you get to grips with it. A player with AB repeat function can be useful here.
Another tip which really works for me is that for several months I trained myself to count my way through every piece I heard on the radio and the car and so forth, I count like this 1234, 2234,3234, though all of the sections. After a while this came automatic to me and I developed the ability to identify where I was in a song without really needing to be conscious of it =- it helped my timing too.
On rythmn, try writing out the main pattern that is evident in a linear pattern - without worrying about the pitch of the notes, read it back on the piano - but be careful to read it as it is rather than as you think it is. Use your finger tapping on a table - the on beat is where your finger goes down, the upbeat is when your finger rises.
Lastly, think about what makes the song effective - why? how does it work? what did you like and how could you use it elsewhere. Play all the main figures you have identified, what is happening theory wise?
You might already know the song very well, but this exercise will always reveal more.

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#1152814 - 08/11/07 11:21 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
superlocrian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/30/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Dallas, TX
Those are great ideas Zero. When College Freshmen come into my Ear Training classes we do a lot of dictation. Some can naturally hear high pitches and some naturally the low ones. There is usually a reason, e.g. Bass singers, tuba players usually do well in harmonic dictation getting the bass lines but have trouble getting the melody picked out of the texture. The opposite is often true of flute players and Soprano singers as they often can not pick the bass line out of the texture at first. What I tell them to do is to listen to their music, but listen to the things that they usually don't listen for.

Years ago I was a high school Jazz Ensemble director. As a lead trumpet player myself, my wind players were very tight and were swinging hard, in tune, in tone, in balance, etc. My rhythm section, however was kind of lame and I figured I had to learn how to get them to sound better. One of the things I did was to go back and listen to all of my Jazz albums (you know, those giant CD's on vinyl?) but I tuned out the melodic lines, etc and focused ONLY on the drums for example. Wow, it's like I'd never heard that recording before! I had no idea that the drummer was doing all that stuff! I did the same with the bass player and guitar players, etc. The end result was that I knew what I now wanted to hear and I just had to get some buddies to tell me what it was I was hearing and how to teach it. Without bragging too much, let's just say that after two years my Jazz bands started winning lots of Festivals.

Yes, listening to specific things really worked for me. BTW- I teach two kinds of listening, active and passive. Passive is non analytical and active is listening with an ear to analysis. I actually find it extremely difficult to listen to any music passively. The only time I find it possible now is with stuff I've heard a million times, for example my James Taylor records I play while I clean the kitchen, etc (yes I know his stuff is on CD now haha).

I will close by agreeing that listening is vital. Music is a language and whatever "dialect" you are into must be absorbed internally before it can be emulated.

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#1152815 - 08/12/07 09:28 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
ZeroZero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/07
Posts: 225
Loc: UK
Thanks for the compliment super, it seems we are going to have a lot to chat about as I am also a theorist - in an unconventional way.
On the subject of ear training, so many people think its about recognising pitches - but thats a very small part of it, and you dont have to get to it first. Granted you have to know that a flat nine sounds minor whereas a 6th sounds major - the colours of the intervals, but after this you can work your way around the paion to find a tune. Ear is also about knowing where you are in a song, recognising structure and feel, picking out different voices, feeling the pulse and being able to write it down

Zero

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#1152816 - 08/13/07 08:09 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
James McFadyen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/23/06
Posts: 103
Loc: Manchester UK
 Quote:
Originally posted by 193866:
Sandy B. here... Senior citizen member. Some people use a known song to begin with and follow the format. Then as time goes by use more and more advanced selections. I studied with a Dr. Green in the community college, non-credit. He taught popular song composition.The fee was only $50.00 and we had to compose songs. Dr. Green told us this."My dad could not afford to send me to college. I worked my way though college composing songs ,with words, for commericals. TV. and radio and I made much money." He told us he made a small fortune. The college even set up a small studio for him to compose and record in, etc. How he got started? He told us he hired a Public Relations Co. to market his songs. They did all the work. They did not charge him anything until they sold his first commercial. They only charged him after that when they sold a commerical for him and they sold many he stated. Good luck. Signing off. Sandy B [/b]
OMG - get your $50.00 back and have him sacked; Dr. Green - where the hell did he get his PhD from? the internet? What an arse, he totally stiched you lot up!!

Mike, if you want to learn, learn. There are some books you should get first;

1) Harmony and Counterpoint
2) Musical Form and Analysis
3) Orchestration and Instrumentation

As has been said earlier, read and listen. I'm sure you have a favourite composer? I suggest you start there; get a load of scores of said composer and study them and see if you can "see" what makes you like them in a particular way.

DON'T go to a community college and take a course led by a "Dr." who is clearly out of work because his music career went tits-up, so he had to take some shitty teaching job instead.

Learn, learn, learn. And more importantly - DO, DO, DO!!!!

Good luck ;\)
_________________________
James McFadyen
Black & White Editions (c/o Devilish Publishing)
NEW PIANO MUSIC DEALS - http://www.blackandwhiteeditions.com/

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#1152817 - 08/13/07 03:45 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13792
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I have to agree with James on this one, songwriting classes tend to provide a little information and a little motivation, both of which you could get for free.

To echo what James says, you have to DO DO DO, and you have to come to grips with the fact that you're probably not going to be very good at it right away.

Don't buy into the conventional wisdom that says "learn first, then do." Everybody who's good at it did it the other way around. Do first, then learn from yourself and seek the advice of others.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1152818 - 08/13/07 05:54 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
James McFadyen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/23/06
Posts: 103
Loc: Manchester UK
 Quote:
Originally posted by Kreisler:
Do first, then learn from yourself and seek the advice of others. [/b]
Yes, I agree on this one. Sometimes if you do too much learning and not enough doing, you end up be able to write music but not able to have your own compositional voice, which is arguably more important than competance.
_________________________
James McFadyen
Black & White Editions (c/o Devilish Publishing)
NEW PIANO MUSIC DEALS - http://www.blackandwhiteeditions.com/

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#1152819 - 08/13/07 07:02 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
i wish i'd have some time going back to do some composing, but apparently i can't now. i agree however that you just have to start doing it, and then revisit or read more stuff on theory, harmony or counterpoint when you're stuck. i remember several years ago, i was reading a fugue book and decided to try to write some simple ones and was astonished at some of what i actually wrote. they're apparently not some great composition but exercise works, but they did sound like fugue, even though they're just 2-voice ones...

but i didn't go too far from there after i started getting serious on playing piano...

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#1152820 - 08/13/07 07:28 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
193866 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 777
Loc: Manassas,Va
Do and then learn was my way... I composed first, while a student of beginning classical piano. My teacher had her Master's degree and said it was an actual classical composition with proper form and it was 10 year level. She told some people do not know they have the talent until they study theory and composition, etc. Then they begin composing. She laughed and told me I did the reverse. No matter how just get the job done right? Sandy B
_________________________
Sandra M. Boletchek 08/02/06

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#1152821 - 08/13/07 10:16 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
Mike090280 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 159
Loc: Texas
Hi. Thank you everyone for you helpfull comments. I have trying to compose and will keep trying. The books I have right now are "The study of Orchestration" by Samual Alder, "Structure and Stlye" by Leon Stein, "Tonal Harmony" by Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne, and "Counterpoint in the Style of J.S.Bach. I plan on getting Fux's counterpoint book. I do appreciate all the advice and will keep trying to compose.

Thanks
Mike

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#1152822 - 08/13/07 10:30 PM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
Mike090280 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 159
Loc: Texas
I guess my biggest problem right now is notating rhythm. Where to put barlines and time signatures ect. I have trouble reading rhythms, my sightreading is not that good, but it is improving. I really need to hear a piece to get the rhythm perfect. I've been working on that quite a bit. Any tips on that aspect?

Thanks

Mike

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#1152823 - 08/14/07 02:14 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
193866 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 777
Loc: Manassas,Va
Mike...One simple option is to tap out the one note melody from a fake sheet with well known, easy, songs you know, and, tap your foot at the same time, very slowly.After you are comfortable with this and it takes time to do this. Then notate the rhythm only between two lines at first... Another option: Some people use drummers method books, as a study guide,learning to write their own rhythm on manuscript paper. You have a very good ear for rhythm from your statement,"I really need to hear a piece to get the rhythm perfect." All the other can be learned later and in stages. Sandy B
_________________________
Sandra M. Boletchek 08/02/06

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#1152824 - 09/13/07 03:44 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
arpeggio4 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/27/07
Posts: 15
Loc: MA
If you do not sight read and or play by ear, I recommend recording what you play on tape or recording directly into a computer via midi. I suggest this for two reasons.

1. A computer will put it into a (recognizable format as far as notation is concerned)however you may need to tweak the files so that they show the proper key the song is in, tempo, meter, etc.

2. By playing and recording directly into a computer you have a base record of it. From the base record you can play with it, revise it, delete sections and or start a reverse analysis on your piece. You can note how the composition is recorded in the system. Or if you don't have a computer a least you will have a recorded document to listen to and play back over and over till you figure out the rhythms to your melody. Just be very careful when saving your files. I recently lost a piece I started to work on a year ago and never got to writing it down and now it is lost forever!! Good Luck

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#1152825 - 09/13/07 03:52 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
arpeggio4 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/27/07
Posts: 15
Loc: MA
On another note does anyone know how to copyright music that I create. Do you have to pay to copyright something or can you just prove you wrote first via computer documentation. I have been writing since I was 15 and have many songs I would like to share with the board, but I don't know how protect my rights to these. I don't presume them to be masterpieces, but I still would like to protect them as they are a huge part of who I am.
Any suggestions and comments would be appreciated!

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#1152826 - 09/13/07 05:49 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13792
Loc: Iowa City, IA
You slap a notice on it saying Copyright 2007 by arpeggio4.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1152827 - 09/13/07 08:39 AM Re: Question on learning compostion.....
mahlzeit Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/06
Posts: 1910
Loc: Netherlands
Whatever you create is already automatically copyrighted by you, whether it has the copyright notice or not.

You can officially register the copyright with http://www.copyright.gov/register/ (since you're in the USA).

The difference between registering and not is that registering makes it easier to prove you wrote it and at what date, plus you can sue for damages if someone infringes your copyright.

(By the way, in a court case you still have to prove the infringer actually had access to your materials, otherwise it is not copyright infringement.)

If you have no intention of making your works commercial, you can simply put a Creative Commons license on it. http://creativecommons.org/
_________________________
No idea what chords you are playing? Reverse Chord Finder Pro will tell you!

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