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How I Compose a Piece of Music
A number of people have asked about my own methodology for creating a complete piece of music at the piano. At the risk of oversimplification, the steps are as follows:
1. I sit down at the piano without any thought of creating something and tune in to my feelings.
2. I start to play the first thing that comes to mind. In other words, my fingers come before my brain. I let it all hang out and see where the music wants to go. If something resonates or has energy I stay with it until the energy dissipates. If the music does not seem to want to go anywhere I get up and leave.
3. Now, (assuming that I am on to something) I draw bar lines - enough for an 8-measure phrase. I then write down the chord changes on top - hopefully for the entire 8 bars. If the entire 8-bars don't come, I try for four - but I usually succeed in filling up this 8-bar space. I'll then pencil in the melody, but only the first 2-bars.
This way, I let the rest of the melody come of its own accord. The first 2-bars is enough to allow me to improvise the rest until it gels into its final form
4. After the first 8-bar section is complete (or incomplete, it doesn't matter) I'll write down another 8 or 4-bar phrase and listen for the next section of music - if there is a next section. If something comes I follow the same procedure as above.
What I usually try for in this section is contrast. Something different. In this regard, I do usually start out with a preconceived idea of what the final form of the music will be. It will be A-B-A form 90% of the time. Knowing this allows me to use the techniques of composition (repetition and contrast) better.
Although this seems to contradict the idea of letting the music tell you where it wants to go (improvisation) it is useful in composition to give shape to the music. I explain this in more detail in my online class.
5. Now, I have the rudimentary parts of the entire piece. If I only have the A section and the B section does not want to come, I leave it and come back to it. Sometimes it never comes and that's all right too. I can then combine different sections to different pieces of music and all works out. I give it a title (nature titles for me since that is my inspiration).
6. The piece is finished only after I play it a number of times and it has a chance to gel. I can't think of a better word for this process. After you play what you have written down a number of times, the music settles into what it will finally become. You just know when the piece is finished. It is an intuitive thing. Sometimes I'll repeat sections a number of times because the inspiration is fresh and because it feels right. Other pieces are very short because more repetition of a section just does not work.
Edward Weiss is a pianist/composer and webmaster of Quiescence Music's online piano lessons. He has been helping students learn how to play piano in the New Age style for over 14 years and works with students in private, in groups, and now over the internet. Stop by now at http://www.quiescencemusic.com/piano_lessons.html for a FREE piano lesson!
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