Reflecting on 2014

At the beginning of 2014 I set out on my quest to become a film composer, having spent 5 previous years making films. I’ve put in a lot of hours learning to play the piano, understanding music theory, how to use Logic Pro X and much more. Over the past few months I’ve been doing less and less piano and theory practice and more and more composing. However, I feel as though in order to continue progressing I must keep a careful balance between learning new skills and composing. I find that both these elements are important, as each time I learn a new skill, I don’t feel I fully understand it unless I try applying what I’ve learnt to a new composition. But for each new skill that I learn, I feel it sparks even more compositional ideas in me.

Ideas

My most recent composition took me around 11 hours to go from initial idea, to finished piece. And 9.5 of these hours where done in one day. However, really it has taken me the entire year to write, because of all the time I’ve spent learning the piano, learning music theory, and learning Logic Pro X. All of the skills I’ve gained in these areas have contributed towards the piece, and for me it marks a milestone, as it celebrates all the hard work I’ve put into my learning throughout 2014. My next blog post will showcase this piece and give a few more details as to how it came about. Until next week…

Learning to Write Music Through Playing

I can now play all 5 movements of Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis Suite!

I started with the first movement back in May which I managed to learn in an hour. However, the latter movements proved a lot harder, particularly the 2nd and 4th as there are so many arpeggiated semiquavers that I just didn’t have the strength or stamina to play them. After 4 months of practicing technical exercises to build up my finger strength, I still struggle with these sections, but I have managed to successfully play them through a few times and have committed the whole suite to memory.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found with learning to play other peoples music on the piano, is that each piece is almost like a score study. I spend so long looking at the music and how the different parts work together and have noticed myself applying the techniques I am playing into the music I write.

I read an article that talked about how great composers learn and become great composers. One of the points was that they study other composers scores and learn from the greats that came before them. Well this is exactly what I feel I am doing when I learn a piece on the piano. Obviously the sheet music for a piano piece is far simpler in comparison to a full orchestral score (when comparing the same piece of music), but the piano is a great place to start, and learning to play it has taught me so much already about composing.

I’ve also been learning from Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica Piano Book and have recently ordered John Powell’s piano book for X-Men III: The Last Stand. Powell and McCreary are two of my favourite composers, so it’s great to have the opportunity to learn from their music.

It’s Time You Learnt The Guitar

I was at a house party last month where a circle formed and my friend brought out his guitar. He played us a few songs and did some showing off and we all loved it. Then we started passing the guitar around the circle. The girl next to him wasn’t quite as good in her playing skill, but she played us a song which still sounded beautiful. Then the next person had a go and they played a nice cover song they’d been practicing. Then it was my turn…

I can’t play the guitar. Trumpet? Yes. Accordion? Yes. Piano? …I’m getting there! Guitar? No! Nevertheless I didn’t want to break the circle so did my best and tried to bosh together something in the way of a melody by sliding my finger up one of the strings and pausing where it sounded nice. It sounded rubbish, so I passed it to the next person who sung another great cover.

The guitar seems to be one of those instruments that everyone can play. Obviously some people are amazing at guitar, but all you need to sing a simple song is to know a few chords and be able to strum along.

Coursera is hosting a new course from Berklee College Of Music called Introduction To Guitar, therefore I’m going to follow the course and learn the basics over the duration of the 6 weeks of the course.

I’ve managed to borrow my sisters guitar, which is pretty small but will do for now, therefore if you’ve ever wanted to learn guitar then I urge you to borrow one from a friend and learn with me and the next time someone passes you a guitar you can at least play a simple chord loop before passing it on.

Introduction To Guitar – https://www.coursera.org/course/guitar

A Lesson In Jazz Improv

If you are at all interested in Jazz Improv the you definitely need to take this course.

This is the course which I have probably learnt the least from, but that is just because the level of my accordion playing isn’t yet at the recommended level to take part in the course. Nevertheless it was not time wasted by any means. I did learn about some of the basics of Jazz Improvising and what potential it has to create amazing music. It also introduced me to the different modes and listed them from brightest sounding to darkest sounding, so this is something that I can play around with when composing on the piano. It’s also taught me the importance of learning scales.

If you’re really good on your instrument and have even the slightest interest in Jazz Improv then I would definitely recommend this course. The videos lessons don’t take up much time and are packed full of useful information. This is one course which I might consider taking again in the future when I’m a bit more versed on my instrument.

The next session starts on 28th April 2014, so go ahead and sign up. It’s free!
Jazz Improv – https://www.coursera.org/course/improvisation

Developing Your Musicianship

A lot of my compositional ideas start out with me exploring different melodies, rhythms and harmonies on my accordion or piano. I always try and improvise for a little bit every time I practice as it allows me to basically compose whilst I play and hear things in real time which I like and might want to focus in on or expand upon. Often when I go from the accordion to writing down my ideas, I end up writing beyond my playing skill, so it becomes difficult to hear a nice finished piece as a real person would play it and instead I have to settle for the computer playing it back with it’s rubbishy sounds.

But as I improve I should be able to play these back as well as be able to play more complex things, which will enable me to hear new melodies, rhythms and harmonies and repeat the process. I’ve even gone back to some of my accordion pieces and started to elaborate on the rhythms of the melody, now that the coordination between both my hands is getting a lot better. But anyway, I’ve noticed a direct correlation between my playing improvements and my compositional improvements which is a great encourager to practice lots.

The next online course I want to take is Developing Your Musicianship and is similar to the Jazz Improvisation course, which I previously did, in that it is designed to help you as a musician and not a composer. However, for me the two are quite intertwined, so whatever I learn here I’m sure will translate over at some point to my composing.