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.

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.

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.