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  1. #51

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    I got a computer around 2000 and spent a couple years with Sibelius. That's all I did. I was having a blast working on a piano trio. My father liked a lot of what I had but I have no chops on piano especially the left hand so I gave up on it.
    Now I'm using Musescore.
    The piano roll in digital audio workstations has become a common way to write music. FL Studio has the best piano roll by far.
    It doesn't suit me even though I've done it a lot. I don't like to use a midi keyboard to write. I just use a guitar and put a rough idea down in Musescore.


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #52

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    Hey Joe... haven't read the whole thread yet. I imagine most if not all of my initial thoughts have already been shared, as well as other great ones... but good starting points I find to be

    - Write a contrafact... just take a tune you know and compose something new
    - Re-harmonize... take a tune and change the chord progression. I think this can actually be exceptionally difficult, especially if you already know the tune. Maybe open the book to a tune you aren't familiar with, try and cover up the chords so you don't see them, jot down the melody, and then find a chord progression you like that works
    -Similar to that, take a tune and get rid of the key signature... or simply change it, so that the melody morphs into something else altogether. Then once all the intervals are off and the melody sits within the key in a different way, try and write a chord progression that fits.
    (Example: if you change the key of Stella to C major, instead of opening with the melody Bb - A, it would just be B - A....G - A - B - F..... whole new situation now)
    -Take a tune you dig and write a countermelody.... almost as though you were writing for an ensemble with 2 horns. So sometimes you might double the melody, sometimes you might have harmonized notes with it, sometimes you might be filling in the empty gaps within the melody, etc.
    -Come up with a catchy rhythm... now try assigning notes to that rhythm until you find something with a personality
    -I'm also just a fan of arranging a standard. There's a ton of overlap between composing and arranging. Working on our arranging skills can do tremendous things for our own compositions. Take a standard and arrange it for a group. I know you play with a group, right? So use that instrumentation. Compose a bass line maybe. Have the guitar or the left hand of the piano double it. Or maybe put the melody to the bridge in the bass and create some nice blanket harmonies with the horns to accompany the bass melody. Rephrase the melody with specific rhythms and articulations. Write a countermelody for one of the melodic instruments to play behind the lead melody. Write background hits to play for the group behind the soloist during his last chorus. There so much stuff we can do as far as arranging goes that will not only give us a great piece to play with our ensemble, but that really will rub off on our compositions... and our improvisation too frankly.

    Looking forward to hearing what you come up with!

  4. #53

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    Actually I do the rhythm thing a lot - rhythm then notes.

  5. #54

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    Oh, I just remembered something real important. It's not obvious when starting up so here. The overthinking. Sometimes when trying and trying and replacing stuff, and nothing seems to work.. it just might be the result of overthinking, making something more interesting just because.. What I mean is when a piece has one solid idea going for it, it's already a good one and very often all the idea (and the piece in general) needs, is support... and not additional quirks - even if those may sound nice in their own way. Imo, thats the hardest part of composing - when to know if it's time to enhance/support one idea or create another.
    Well, thats just my amateur opinion. Never took a lesson .

  6. #55

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    I have a few methods of composing (even though I always equated composing as something that you do with a pen and paper, basically writing out what you hear in your head. For me the "Writing tunes" is a more appropriate description.)
    - Noodle with the guitar, find something chord/melody/"riff" that sticks and go from there, where either the fingers (subconscious) or the brain (conscious) takes you
    - Try to find notes to fit a certain mood (for me usually this comes from a imaginary "scene", like from a movie)
    - Hear something in your head and transcribe that asap, before it disappears.

    My musical ability is kinda limited in a sense that I can only hear one guitar and the basic rhythm in my head simultaneously, so everything else is arranging around that base. Luckily I have the gear, so I can overdub until the end of days. I've read somewhere that some musically more inclined people can hear entire orchestras clearly and pretty much just write out what they heard. That's definitely not me.

  7. #56

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    I have composed a lot of music and this is how it works for me:

    "sitting down to write something" doesn't work for me. My best ideas come when I'm away from the instrument. When I'm in creative mode, I quickly write or record my ideas so they don't go away. These ideas are the seeds to grow new songs.

    To write interesting melodies, I mess around with the notes that would naturally occur to me so I don't get into cliche's. Change the rhythm, use wider intervals to avoid melodies that sound like licks or scales.

    You can write a melody to a chord progression or the other way around, but it's often most interesting to try alternate harmonies with your melody. Usually, my best songs are a combination of both.

    Tell a story or describe a mood or emotion. Every good song has a purpose, beside showing off how clever you are!

  8. #57

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    "cliche" has such a bad rep but sometimes one of those jumps out that rolls over all of them. And also over the one what made the thing a "cliche".

  9. #58

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    i would suggest learning some new theory stuff and then using it as a vehicle/exercise for composing. Say you want to work on reharmonizing something, or adding more chords, or modulating or manipulating a melody or whatever, just choose one thing and write some music with it. Doesn't really matter if its good or bad as long as you 're improving and learning things. See composing like you see practicing the guitar, just do a bit every day.

    Analyzing music that you like is a thing too. See what these musicians do and write similar stuff..

    Try different approaches, write on other instruments besides guitar if possible, or using just theory (no instrument). Sometimes i just sing stuff on my phone.

    For me at least, i find the more technology is involved, the more complicated and not fun composing becomes. For some stuff you have to use a daw, vsts or notation programs for arranging and writing scores or lead sheets, but i still find an instrument a notebook and a pencil the easier way to work

    I 've written a lot of music over the years, and it is usually on demand, meaning writing tunes so your quartet can play some original material, or putting music to a vocalists tunes, or for theatre plays and dance theatre performances. I see composition as quite a "pedestrian" thing, you just use tools to achieve a goal. It s not really about inspiration, but about knowing the music and the tools to create it, and putting in the time. Then of course like performing, some people are insanely gifted on composing, but ... not all of us can be that.. Everyone can write good music with effort, same way everyone can play good music without being a virtuoso on an instrument.

  10. #59

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    honestly I dont know your background, and level of composition as it is, you state youre a beginner. I have some composition behind me (a few years of collegiate jazz composition courses as well) and the honest to goodness best way to start writing compositions isnt to compose music. It's to start by arranging tunes that already exist (again i apologize if this doesnt apply.. either way it could help another forum member). If you take a look at writing from say, duke, or thad jones, or someone like that forward there are absolutely writing techniques worth noting. Again im not trying to be patronizing, but in your op, you dont specify what approach you are trying to use, are you doing 3 part writing? five part double lead? 4 part string quartet? through composed? a little more information will help and then i can throw some resources at you that would give you writing devices that would be VERY helpful im sure. At least they were for me!


  11. #60

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    The biggest problems I think any would be composer faces are:

    1) the blank page
    2) judging what you write

    My strategies are
    1) start with something. Anything. A groove and three random chords. A set of changes from a standard. An interesting scale. A tune that you want to pastiche. Anything.
    2) Write the whole thing in one go as much as possible, even if some of it's a bit basic and put it on the shelf for a couple of days. Revisit when you've forgotten what it sounds like and play it back to yourself. Make decisions based on that.

    Write as much as possible.

    Sure you can work on your chops - harmony, counterpoint, arrangement techniques, but these are all in addition to the basic engine of write-revisit-revise-finish.

    I'm reading up on songwriting and working on songwriting (similar to composing). My take away is, do it for the sake of doing it. Quantity over quality and the quality will eventually come. Turn your internal critic off.

    I think it's also good to set a session time limit, say 30 minutes. That forces you to be productive and hopefully helps with turning off the critic.

  12. #61

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep

    I'm reading up on songwriting and working on songwriting (similar to composing). My take away is, do it for the sake of doing it. Quantity over quality and the quality will eventually come. Turn your internal critic off.

    I've told this story before but it's worth repeating. Back in the early '80s I worked the graveyard shift and had access to several morning papers. One was the Wall Street Journal. One morning I read an article about how often even successful sales people are turned down. If you get one sell out of ten, you're doing very well. Ten out of a hundred. I thought, "Hey, if i write 100 songs, I'll have enough songs for an album." That thought liberated me. I wrote hundreds of songs in a few years. Most were crap, but so what? Each was fun for a few moments at least and some I still play to this day. I didn't have to think about which ones would last, I just had to keep writing. It was one of life's golden ages.

  13. #62

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boston Joe
    I have scorecloud. I definitely do write things down, but I usually wait a night before I do that. If I can remember it the next day, I figure maybe it's not too bad. Here's a link to the first A section. ScoreCloud.

    (I wanted to post a screen shot, but my work blocks
    Love a jazz waltz, sounds good. I which the jazz community was more into writing and performing their own music. I'd much rather hear you play your tune started here than a tired jazz standard.

  14. #63

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    1. Grab the great american song book, pick out some tunes you like, take the changes and write your own melodies over it.

    2. transcribe tunes you like, melodies/changes and find out what parts you like and why -> try and mimic the parts you like, in your own context.

    3. don't sit down and look at the paper and wait for the perfect melody, or the perfect changes. Write horribly on purpose, then adapt and improve. It's better to work with something you have on paper rather than wait and wait and end up with nothing after an hour or so of just trying to write something acceptable the first go.

    4. do loads of writing.

    5. share it with the musicians you trust, and feel like you won't be judged by.

    6. do loads of writing (again).

    Hope that helps you in some way!

  15. #64

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    Well, I just sort of fell into this idea, When you first pick up the guitar do you usually toss off a few notes to get the fingers going? Just 4 to 6 notes, some subliminal phrase lurking in the back of your mind or under those fingers. I have put together more than a few tunes that way. This began just after I learned to play enough to want to keep learning more. Had just a few scales under my fingers.

    Fair warning, they didn't sound much like jazz. But I figured that would come later as I got better at jazz chords. [still persuing those chords and haven't written many tunes lately]

    Here's one very fine place to start the wheels turning. The Cycle of 5ths has a wealth of ideas for digging yourself out of a compositional hole. Most places where it's found also explain it's usage.

    Rich Severson [99 cent guitar ] has a very fine class on how to turn those first 4 notes into a very nice 8 to 12 bar line. [ not blues] I have been trying to find the class and am missing it. It's called sequencing. I just tried under that title and failed to find it. He begins the class with a short tidbit about a student who couldn't think of anything to play...... wish I could remember the class title. They cost 4.99 If you listen to jazz you will hear this idea used all the time.

    The class is about how your move your short melody up the neck diatonically. It makes your lines sound more like you know what you are doing.

    BIAB is a very useful tool for composing, if you have a real sounding band as your white board the ideas will flow. Jazzers borrow from each other and great composers all the time.


  16. #65

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    I plug chord changes from a jazz song into my Band in a Box. Then I change the style to something totally different. If swing, make it metal, if bossa, make it reggae. Then I sit there with my guitar as Band in a Box plays it over and over and over again. I eventually spit out a few melodies that sound really good to me.

    Then I play it with my band and see how well it passes the test. If it does, then I know I have something with legs. Sometimes they tell me certain parts are weak so I have to start over again, or tweak spots.

    I recommend this approach just to get started.

  17. #66

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    Quote Originally Posted by don_oz
    don't sit down and look at the paper and wait for the perfect melody, or the perfect changes. Write horribly on purpose, then adapt and improve. It's better to work with something you have on paper rather than wait and wait and end up with nothing after an hour or so of just trying to write something acceptable the first go.
    this whole post is great advice. I think it's important not to be too precious about what you write; even the very greatest songwriters write and record un-memorable music all the time.

    the only thing I'd add is to figure out what kinds of activities on average lead to satisfying results, for you. For myself, sitting down in front of a blank page and saying "time to write a tune" rarely leads to a good tune. But, practicing certain kinds of voiceleading often gives me an idea that I can then expand on. I was listening to an interview with some famous songwriter recently (maybe springsteen?) and he said "I'm not sure where inspiration comes from, but what I do know is that when it comes, you need to be able to drop everything and follow it".

    Which kinda confirms my experience that I can't manufacture inspiration on demand, but what I can do is engage in activities that are likely to lead me to being creative.

  18. #67

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    Record your ideas in your voice recorder of your phone! This is what I do, and when I sit to songwrite, I have lots of ideas to build from. If you don't record them, you forget them easily.

    When you record them, you are also sub-consciously saying to yourself that you value your song ideas. This makes songwriting easier in itself also.

    All the best with it

  19. #68

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    If I knew how to be a good composer, I would have a lot more money than I now have. I suspect the same applies to everyone here. I suspect that people like Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, et al simply had a talent, the the talent carried them. I do not have that talent.

  20. #69

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    Write 1,000 songs

  21. #70

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    I have better things to do with my time than write thousands of crappy songs. Your time is your own. But my point was that I have no useful advice, and I seriously doubt that anyone else here has any either. Skilled, talented composers who write good music are pretty well known.

  22. #71

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    I have better things to do with my time than write thousands of crappy songs. Your time is your own. But my point was that I have no useful advice, and I seriously doubt that anyone else here has any either. Skilled, talented composers who write good music are pretty well known.
    It's not all about you you know :-)

    Everything happens with practice.... No excuses. Do the work.

  23. #72

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    Negative harmony.

    If you like tricks.

  24. #73

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    Up at six, five hours straight, sandwich and a stroll, four more hours. You might get something worthwhile after a few months. Maybe :-)

    I've never used negative harmony. I usually start with a place, or a person, a mood, a memory, or even a wise saying, and see what comes out.

    But 99% of songs are about relationships. If you look at a list of standards nearly all of them reflect some kind of happening in a relationship. Reading them through a composer's eyes sheds an interesting light on them. They're not just words on a page then, they're real.

    So draw on your own experience and come up with your own. If you've got any music in you something should happen. But work is the key usually.

  25. #74

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    My daughter once told a little friend of hers that her daddy composed music, to which she replied, "That's impossible because people who do that are famous and you see them on TV". Ha.

    I actually started making up tunes seriously around the time she was born, sitting with an unplugged solid body in the hush of the night, stealing an hour here, an hour there. I was also listening very closely to jazz at this time, which really opened up my ears, I must say. Before this time, you could say that I was a "good" rock guitarist - well, that's what people used to say.

    Anyway, I have quite a lot of material right now which is awaiting finishing touches and I suppose that sooner or later it will get recorded - I posted an early attempt recently in this section. But it's difficult with work and all.

    I generally agree with Ragman's words. Now, there's a man whose music often has what we call "duende" in Spanish (sort of magical quality). It doesn't matter if it's going to change the world or not - find your voice and go with it.

    PS That could take a long time.

  26. #75

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    Up at six, five hours straight, sandwich and a stroll, four more hours.
    are you a poet now?