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Thread: Composing by Pen

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Composing by Pen

    Hey Guys I've been thinking a lot on this topic. Would it be more effective even more creative to be able to do this. I've been transcribing a lot lately but I'm am not really shure how to train the ability of imagining sounds by notes that are on the paper. do you have any suggetions how to specifically train this.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Well, you don't compose by Pen, you compose by Ear!

    But, when you sit at a piano or other instrument, IT makes the sounds for your ear.

    People who compose "on paper" don't usually just write down notes with no idea of what they sound like (though there are sometime effects people want and do this, or some composition techniques do this). What they do is have a good "inner ear" or "mental image" of what the sounds sound like. Additionally, they have experience with what sounds work together from having played them (and of course heard them as they played them).

    I know, for example, that if I write a C chord, followed by an F chord, followed by another C chord, and have a melody, in 3/4 that goes E-C-C | F-C-C | G-C-C it's going to sound "good". I also know that I could put the 2nd C in first inversion and that's going to sound good too. And, it's all going to sound fairly "typical" and thus "correct". That's because I'm familiar with the sounds these chords make, and what sounds the melody makes - in fact, I don't even need to mentally or physically hear this to know it will "work". But if I think about it, I do sort of know what it sounds like. I know what I-IV-I sounds like. Now, I can't know exactly what it will sound like in close position in one register versus open position in another register, but I have enough of a general idea that I can pick the one I think I want and then try it out at an instrument later.

    In college, classes usually called "Ear Training" or "sight singing" or similar things are designed to train this ability. You do it through singing and transcribing, but the goal is to "internalize" the sounds. Really, it's largely experience but people have found it's more effective to internalize if you "mentally" think the sounds, then try to vocally produce them (instead of having the benefit of specific keys, frets, valves, etc. to trigger on an instrument).

    I don't think it's necessarily any more creative though. It does of course free you from any sorts of idiomatic writing for any instrument - for example, if you're a pianist, and you sit down at a piano, you're very much more likely to plop your fingers down in a familiar chord shape (muscle memory) than to try something completely "un-pianistic" unless you intentionally try. Hearing sounds "mentally" frees you from the physical limitations the instrument might try to impose on you (but in a sense, your musical experiences as a listener also kind of forces you to only come up with sounds you're already familiar with!).

    And I think some people just work better one way than another.

    I personally found that notation software helped me develop a kind of "hybrid way". I use Finale, and what I'd do is use the program's playback abilities to get immediate feedback on any phrase I had written. Then I could "try out" different notes by moving things around. My approach would be to think things like "I feel like this should go up". I wouldn't know how far up it should go, so I'd try it. I could have sat at a piano and tried it, but I do it in the software. So sort of "feel" (as opposed to internally specifically hear) the direction, distance, and duration I want the notes to go - sort of a more gut instinct way of composing. Again, I could do this at an instrument, but with the software I at least get the bonus of having a printable score being written as I work :-) And I can print out drafts and try them out at piano (which gives me a different perspective than playback, and also highlights any technical issues).

    IMHO, I think you'll benefit most from being open-minded about music and allowing yourself to have an inclusionary musical life as opposed to an exclusionary one, and you'll benefit from having lots of influences incorporated into your style and be willing to try out more adventurous things. That philosophy will overcome the "restrictions" an instrument imposes on you with more far-reaching effects than "composing on paper" gives, which of course has its own limitations. That said, "gut" composing has it's own limitations as well and ideally you'll treat each method (and any others) as tools that you have at your disposal, which you can choose from to pick the right tool for the job.


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