Phase 2: Composing

Up until now I’ve not actually done much writing and have just been concentrating on learning lots about music composition. However, I feel as though I now know enough to actually get on with composing. This last week I’ve been writing a lot of music and whilst I originally planned to use my free time to continue learning, I’ve instead been using that time to compose. When creativity comes then it’s best to harness as much as you can before the moment passes.

I think I’ve posted this before, but it’s such a great talk on creativity that if you haven’t seen it yet you definitely should as it is sure to inspire you.

I feel like I’ve entered the next phase in my musical journey and whilst I have only scratched the surface when it comes to learning about music, my main focus now is going to be getting on with composing.

I’ve also spent a lot of time recently thinking about where I’m going with my accordion playing and whilst I originally planned on buying a full size 120 bass accordion and becoming a master on the instrument I’ve decided that my time (and money) would be better spent writing music which is what I actually want to do. I’m treating the accordion more like a hobby now and just enjoying playing both by myself and as part of a band.

With a much clearer view of where I’m heading, my current plan is to write five short pieces for string quartet and then approach a quartet to rehearse them with, get some feedback from the players and hear the pieces played with some emotion. The disadvantage of writing music using notation software is that there is no emotion in the music. I’ve already finished one piece and am working on a couple of others, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I have all five pieces finished, printed and ready to play.

My First Live Gig!

Just last week I had my first live gig with the band Calamity Poets. I’d only joined the band about three weeks ago and had to learn thirteen songs, including this one, which features me soloing at the beginning.

If you’re trying to spot me there’s no need, it’s too dark to actually see me in the video, but at least you can hear me quite clearly. I’d worked out what I wanted to play for the beginning of the solo at home, but the second half is a bit more make it up… I need to work out properly what I want to play here before the next gig.

The experience was great. It was a lot of fun and whilst I did make a few mistakes, I’m pretty pleased with how I did overall. I was quite nervous throughout most of the day and found it difficult to do any composing, so just ended up practicing my piano a lot. Oddly enough though, when I got to the venue I felt quite relaxed, I think it was because after we did our sound check I realised that I was more prepared than I originally thought I was. I was nervous that I would forget the chords to the songs, so as a safety measure I wrote them down and stuck them to the top of my accordion. Learning thirteen songs in such a short space of time meant that in my head all the songs kind of blurred into one.

My next gig is on Sunday, when I’m actually playing in both bands. Once in the afternoon with my other band where we’re going to be playing at an open mic and performing the song which I wrote, and then again in the evening with Calamity Poets. I’m sure I’ll be nervous about the afternoon performance though as my song features me soloing on the accordion a lot more than the Calamity Poets song Smile (above). Although saying that, I still can’t wait to perform it!

Can I Call Myself A Composer Now?

I hit a milestone last week; after four months of solid learning I’ve finally reached the stage where I’ve begun to compose. I wrote two pieces last week and have started writing a third this week. The first one is a demo for one of the bands that I’m in (we’ve yet to give ourselves a name) and the other two are simple themes for piano. Today I’m going to focus on the band track.

Whilst at band practice a few weeks ago I started to play one of the tunes I’d written for my accordion. The tune was incomplete and felt more like the middle section of bigger piece, but the band liked it and wanted to develop it into a song. I worked out an introduction and thought through some ideas of where I wanted the piece to go. Then the week before last, we started to develop it. I explained the structure of the piece and what instruments should come in where and tried my best to describe what they should play. We spent a good couple of hours working through the song and looping some sections to try and develop them. At the end of the night I recorded the whole song and listened back to it the next day. The song wasn’t quite going in the direction that I wanted, but hearing it had helped me see clearly where I wanted it to go. Therefore I spent the next three days working on a demo of the song. I recorded my accordion part and then played in the other band members parts using my keyboard and the software instruments that come with Logic Pro X. So here it is, the first proper composition I have done since I started my quest to become a film composer.

There are a few things missing from the track, such as the vocals. Our singer wrote some lyrics to the piece but I’ve represented his part in the piece with a flute, since he wasn’t available to record them. I’ve also left out guitar strums as this isn’t something I could simulate very well on my computer. And my EQing, mixing and mastering skills aren’t up to scratch yet so I haven’t optimised the track for the best listening experience, that is something I am yet to learn. But seeing as it’s just a demo, I still have time to learn this.

Once I’d finished the track I sent it to the rest of the band to listen to and we went through it for real at this weeks practice. I’m pretty pleased with the end result. We’ve named the track “Hard to Find” because of the lyrics and we’re going to be playing it live at an open mic night in the middle of May, along with two cover songs. I’m pretty excited to perform it live actually and to see what an audience think of it. And I’ve got plans to write lots more tracks for the band, but for now I need to practice my accordion part to this one and get my playing perfected.

Why The Accordion?

My friend asked me back in January, “Why do you want to be able to play the accordion?” I told him, “Because it’s awesome!”

One of my favourite pieces of music ever is La Noyee from the soundtrack to Amelie, which is played on the accordion. I’ve listened to that track hundreds of times and imagined myself playing it like this guy:

So last year I ended up buying a 48 bass piano accordion. Little did I know at the time I wouldn’t be able to play La Noyee on my accordion because it was too small, I’d need a 120 bass piano accordion. But I’d already bought my 48 bass one so bought a book that would teach me the coordination and basics of playing. I decided to make it up after that. I’d spent 12 years playing the trumpet and reading music, but never learnt to play without music. I couldn’t improvise, memorise a tune, play by ear or make up a melody. So with the accordion I decided this was my main point of focus. I started playing around with 4 chord sequences and attempted to make up a tune. Success! After experimenting a lot I ended up writing a couple of short tunes and I never even wrote them down. I had made them up and played them back from memory. Next task: play by ear. I was listening through the soundtrack to Micmacs (another Jean-Pierre Jeunet film) and heard this tune:

Now the beginning of this isn’t even played on an accordion and even later on the accordion doesn’t actually play any chords, but I managed to work out the chords and the melody by ear. In order to do this I had to first work out the left hand and then the right hand, but I couldn’t actually play them together because the rhythms on each hand were very different to what I’d been playing so far. But no one ever improves by only playing easy stuff, so this was perfect for me. It took me quite a while but eventually I could actually play it, and with this new rhythm pattern which my fingers were accustomed to, I could try making up a host of other songs.

Now I’m in two bands and am working on an original song for one of them. My first public performance will be next month as I’m playing with one of the bands at an open mic night. I might even do a couple of solo numbers of my own as well if there’s time/space. Then I’m aiming to go busking around Bath in the summer. Studying music and writing music means I’m sat inside all day in front of my computer/keyboard so it’ll be nice to get outside into the sunlight and breath a bit of fresh air. Then next year I’d like to be in a position where I could warrant buying a full size 120 bass piano accordion, so that I can learn La Noyee and make my own video performing this amazing piece of music.

A Heavy Load

Last week I blogged about altering my sleeping pattern in order to get more out of my day and keep up with my music goals. Here are the reasons why I decided to do this.

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Every time I practice my accordion I always create more for myself to practice next time. I like to spend a bit of time improvising as this is such a great tool when it comes to composing. Most of my improvising tends to explore one idea such as a simple chord sequence and rhythm, and then coming up with new melodic ideas that go with this. I’ve also tried playing along to some of my favourite tunes and seeing if I can add anything new to the piece, or at least play the right notes. This combination is how I’ve been creating my parts for the 5 cover songs that we’re currently playing in the band which I joined. Each practice we seem to spend the last 15 – 30 minutes improvising to some simple chords and rhythms, but the rest of the time we work on these covers. As well as practicing these covers I also like to practice and develop the pieces which I’ve been writing for my accordion. I’m hoping to get them to a good enough level where I can play them busking in the summer. But it’s always good to have a few popular songs up your sleeve which people already know, so I’ve also started learning some solo accordion covers. Now this is already a lot of stuff to be practicing, so let’s increase the work load by changing instruments.

The piano. I’ve also noticed myself  improving on the piano and whilst I originally only practiced for 30 minutes to an hour a day, I can now easily sit in front of the piano for 2 hours straight. I’m still practising from the books that I have, but I’ve also been creating compositional ideas by playing around with different chord progressions and melodies, much the same as when I’m improvising on the accordion.

Then there are the online courses that I’ve been taking. I started out just doing one, then I increased it to four and now I’ve managed to get it down to two, which I’ll be keeping it at until probably around June. But that is not enough. I’ve got some music theory books which I’m also reading and working through, plus a tone of tutorial videos on how to use Logic Pro X, which I’ll be starting soon.

Now you can see why I’ve altered my sleep cycle!