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  Composing in your head.  Viola at 22:49 on 21 August 2005

I saw the small section near the bottom of the screen just now about composing in your head. I am fairly young and have much to learn, I can see that well established composers go on this site so this is mainly for them, but anyone feel free...
I just always felt that thats how composition starts. In ones head. I ALWAYS do the writing in my head, then onto fresh paper for analysis, then into sibelius for pubishing. I'd be interested to know how others approach their own works.

  Re: Composing in your head.  BassoonBuffoon at 01:43 on 03 November 2005

I too am a young composer (only 18, a senior in high school)I have had no formal training and also no performances of my works (other than having my bassoon works, quartets and duets mostly, read at the studio where I study). but I like you have to hear a good thematic idea (that can be important stipulation) in my head first. Then unlike you I do all of my writing editing and publication in Finale. I have to have the aid of a playback mechanism for three main reasons.
1) I have little aural training and what little I have is self taught..mostly from choral work. Band is no good for sight singing...because you don't have to sing...just press the right buttons!
2) I am not a pianist and cannot play complicated counterpoints that I come up with.
3) I am not that skilled a bassoonist.

Hopefully next year at college I improve my piano and aural well as my shoddy theory background...intervals?...What are those?

  Re: Composing in your head.  James McFadyen at 20:11 on 24 November 2006

I have never advocated using Sibelius or any other computer software for the composition process.

I use manuscript and a healthy stock of 2B pencils. And, well, of course my 'brain' and a keyboard to run a few ideas through my ears.

  Re: Composing in your head.  scott_good at 16:49 on 26 November 2006

I think that there are many possibilities for the creation and development of musical ideas.

Of course, something has to be going on in your head. But, I also think that through improvisation, ideas can be arrived at through paths that the imagination cannot achieve without practical “in the moment” realization and exploration. If there is an idea in your head, take it to the piano and start repeating it over and over. Then, let the ego take a break, and let the depth of your unobstructed creativity take over. The brain is designed to exist in the now with incredible efficiency. Under the thin blanket of the conscious lies a busy working universe of ideas that are all yours. Get into the physicality of making the sound – let your hands wander. Listen closely to what you are doing from another place in the room - project yourself as an audience. How does it make you feel? What do you want to hear next? I think you will find that ideas will surface that were not predictable with the conscious subjective mind. Also, it can be really fun to jam out! I also heartily encourage you to improvise with others. The bouncing around of ideas can lead to some beautiful music making. It is also great for ear development and exploring instrumental technique.

I do like to use finale software as a part of my compositional process – not always, and not exclusively. It allows me the opportunity to quickly jot ideas down and play them back for further study and perspective. Yes, the sounds suck @$$, but, there is a certain degree of accuracy in the representation of the idea. Of course, this can only work for certain kinds of musical expressions. Nothing improvised can be realized – only the “pure” notes are heard. Specialized instrumental sonority, tesitura, balance, timbre blend etc. are lost in this medium. None-the-less, I think that if you are aware that the “music” coming from the speakers is not the be-all of the music, I think it can serve as an excellent tool for building a musical composition, especially for studying and developing form, harmony, and rhythm. Certainly not for all, but, I don't think it is useful to be dogmatically opposed to using the machine as a part of the musical development.

Lastly, be open to the idea that musical expression exists everywhere. Be less critical of others, and more inspired. This is not just for compositional development, but also for living a contented and joyful life. I can't tell you how much this has made a difference for me.

...oh, bassoon guy, learn your intervals, scales, modes inside and out, and always sing music before playing it. Work hard, and your learning curve will be exponential. The bassoon will get much easier, and become a tool of expression, not of frustration.

  Re: Composing in your head.  dunkinwedd at 15:10 on 27 November 2006

BassoonBuffoon said:

> ...intervals?...What are those?

An interval is the drinking bit in the middle of a concert - you know, the bit that gets interrupted by all that ghastly music...!

  Re: Composing in your head.  The Piano King at 06:05 on 02 December 2006

Intervals are like inches on a piano and other instruments. Many songs have intervals to give the song more of a classical and blues feeling. Sometimes jazz. Say the first note in the music you are playing is in c (middle C) the interval you might use is c/e or c/f or c/a you are basically skipping keys on the instrument or notes if that makes more sense. If anyone has any questions concerning composing or theory just send me a message.
God Bless
The Piano King

  Re: Composing in your head.  The Piano King at 06:06 on 02 December 2006

Intervals are like inches on a piano and other instruments. Many songs have intervals to give the song more of a classical and blues feeling. Sometimes jazz. Say the first note in the music you are playing is in c (middle C) the interval you might use is c/e or c/f or c/a you are basically skipping keys on the instrument or notes if that makes more sense. If anyone has any questions concerning composing or theory just send me a message.
God Bless
The Piano King

  Re: Composing in your head.  The Piano King at 06:09 on 02 December 2006

Many people compose in their head. It is an ability that iam proud to say i have. But it only comes through years of practice and experience.Iam able to compose on the spot like if i had a performance but had nothing ready i would play what i knew and play stuff on the spot and mostly they are on the spot medleys or arrangements.

  Re: Composing in your head.  KE Peace at 03:57 on 12 April 2007

I have been reading the entries in this topic with much interest. It seems to me everyone has a different method for composing, so what I am discussing here is just the way I do it, with no pretensions to its orthodoxy or even usefulness for others.

I often (though not always) have some kind of seed I start from. For example, a text (for choral pieces), a short piece (for a theme-and-variations type piece), an idea, image or story to render musically (for example "Autumn" or "In the Womb"). Sometimes I want to write a piece for a friend and tailor it to them. It's best if it's something that inspires or intrigues me.

Then I sit down at my computer and fire up Finale. Like you, "BassoonBuffoon" I use Finale for similar reasons. I do not play any instrument well enough to do more than work out ideas -- slowly. And I cannot hear my compositions in my head totally either, especially those with more complex harmonies. My main instrument is voice, which severely limits my contrapuntal playback (although the Tibetan monks have managed to sing two tones simultaneously, that's about the limit as far as I know! And I don't think they can do counterpoint!) However, the more I do, the better my ability to hear in my head gets. When people ask me what I play, I say 'I play the computer.' (I was also a software engineer for 14 years, so I suppose I can say that in more than one sense.

The version of Finale I have has 2 options for playing the score -- the second one uses Garritan Personal Orchestra, which are good quality sampled sounds. I find this invaluable for composing because of the instant feedback. Garritan can also play most commonly used dynamic and articulation markings (slurs, pizzicato, arco, accents, etc) as they are written in the score, which is very useful. I would not be able to write anywhere near as quickly without this tool (not mention to print professional-looking scores and parts and create CD's with reasonable facsimiles of a performance -- handy for sending to publishers).

So back to what I do in my head -- I usually have an idea of the mood and rhythm and a more approximate idea of the melody and harmony. I write a line, listen. Then -- and I don't know how to describe this -- I "feel" what should come next, that "what" being the rhythmic interplay between instruments, the particular instrument(s) to be used, and a general idea of the harmony. Once I have a melody or theme, I may methodically develop it in the ways one learns about in music schools and composition lessons -- ie, augmentation, diminution, imitation, key changes, perversion and intimidation (haha just kidding -- I'll leave those two to the self-appointed critics :-D), etc. Sometimes I just kind of let the music "tell" me what comes next.

(I think that is where waiting, a kind of patient meditation or inner listening comes in -- the music is out there somewhere, just waiting for someone to hear it. This attitude serves me better than feeling these are totally my creation. Of course, I have to cooperate. But ultimately, I am just a tool the music uses, is how I try to look at it.)

I write some more. And I listen listen listen -- for balance, for places where I need to add something to keep the movement going, to tone quality, to the dynamic balance. It's something part art and part intuition (and part childlike curiosity and playfullness, too)-- but for me it all starts with listening over and over. When I do this, subtle things start to become apparent that I could not hear before. That's the best I can explain it -- listen and you'll suddenly have this gestalt as to what comes next.

Sometimes, though, I just "try something" to see if it works, and I mean small scale, a few notes. As far as harmony, that is not my strongest point, so often I have an idea of how it sounds, but I need to play with the notes before I recognize exactly what I am looking for. But again through this process, I learn more and more what kind of harmony I am hearing in my head (sometimes it's fuzzy!)

Finally, I get others to listen and give their impressions, constructive critique. Especially people who excel in their compositions. And take it in and mull it over. When you get such feedback, it is invaluable; treat it as such. This is not about ego, it's about serving the Muse who gave her name to our art...

I am working on the second movement to my second attempt at a symphony -- it (as a work in progress) is on the web. Feedback welcome, though it could change radically by the time it's done. Also, in it you can hear what the Garritan sounds I mention are like if that interests you.

OK just my evening thoughts, for what they're worth, or not. :-)

PS Oh and you young or newer composers on the forum -- Bravo for you! Don't ever let yourselves be intimidated by anyone on this forum. Older or more experienced composers ought to be encouraging and helping you grow -- that does include advice, and honest constructive critique. But if it doesn't help you grow, have the courage to throw it out (including this advice if applicable!)