Composing : Composing tips for young composers by Janet Tanner

Janet Tanner
Joel Irwin

Interesting.... keep in mind is trying to be general and does suggest ideas for orchestra but it is coming from a site which focuses on the guitar. I would first suggest that it is more for the newbie or starting off composers. Too many times we assume that you can only start your career as a child or teenager. I didn't start in music until I was 52 when I went back to school. I would tend to agree with most though I would not push one of the items and I would add one more: 1. You don't necessarily have to know where you are going when you start. Perhaps that is true for a transcription or an original classical piece. I know for certain that many of my singer/songwriter and country friends experiment a lot before they finally settle on a song and then it may get changed a couple of times before they final settle on a finished song which may not have been envisioned when they start. I know that for me that in a majority of the works I create I have an 'idea' of what I want to do but just like a film, I may work on the end, then go back and add something to the beginning and even get rid of whole sections along the way. When I look back on something I finished, I often wonder 'how the heck' I created it and constantly think I could never do it again (but I do). Earlier this year I was working on a film and I often do the end titles first which typically includes a 'theme' - but I had no clue what to do and I had 2 1/2 days to score the whole film. So I started working on the cues at the end, then went and worked on the cues for the beginning and then while I was in the middle, it occurred to me that the 'theme' for my end titles was sitting inside cues in the middle that I was developing. So I stopped, wrote the end and then went back to the middle. I had no idea when I started that the score would be composed the way it did. About the only thing I knew when I started was: (1) there would be too very different and contrasting themes and that the first would be in 7/8 since when Zombie children walk, they don't walk in tempo. 2. Many composers start after learning on an instrument - often piano or guitar AND writing music for these instruments often take advantage of the 'idioms' of that instrument. So it is natural as we blossom to additional instruments that we will often (and normally incorrectly), map the idiom of our well learned instrument onto the others. So for example, first timers who write string quartets or write for string orchestral section just take the notes they play on the piano and divide them up across the strings. Thus, they make the strings sound like a piano which has been 'patched' to a string section. Its not a string quartet - it still sounds like a piano. Learning each instrument - whether you score with electronic samples or live, is paramount to effectively writing for it and taking full advantage of its capabilities and sound. That also goes for writing for solo vocals, duets or full SATB choirs.

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