You Want To Compose? This Is How It’s Done.
The act of musical composition involves one basic activity: choosing good notes.
The choice is critical. The first notes heard by the listener set the tone for the entire song or symphony. Good notes are the well-spring for a wonderful composition. Bad notes signal bad music. A composer can’t make good music out of bad notes any more than a chef can prepare a great meal out of bad ingredients.
Let us now compose. How we will choose our notes?
There are all kinds of decisions involved in that choice. Are we looking for happy notes, sad notes, notes filled with tension or notes with calm? The emotions we’re looking to impart will inform our choice of notes.
OK, so we’ve selected our first note. What do we do next?
We have 3 options:
- The second note can be higher than the first.
- The second note can be the same as the first.
- The second note can be lower the first.
Make a choice and move on to the third note. It’s that’s simple!
And thus a composer builds his music, one note at a time, just like a painter brings a canvas to life one brushstroke at a time. The challenge to the composer is to assemble his notes in a cohesive unified way that stimulates the listener’s mind and touches his heart. The compositional process can happen quickly (the notes come out in a rush of manic inspiration) OR the process can be arduous and slow (as evidenced in Beethoven sketch books). Nevertheless, the finished composition should sound as if all the notes were well chosen and assembled with care. Leonard Bernstein’s achingly beautiful melody for “One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story achieves the ultimate in musical economy and heartfelt emotion.
I invite everyone to participate in the act of music making. Select some notes that sound good and build on them with inspiration, craft and high standards. Play your music. Sing your music. Record your music. Experience your music and share it. The act of playing your music will reveal its quality.
I’ll be listening.