Crowd-Sourcing Composing Tips: Introduction

English: Level/Time of competence when learnin...

Acquiring composing skills and knowledge is very much like living: you just pay attention and learn one thing after another. Your skill (theoretically) improves over time, your tastes develop and change, your ear gets better so that you can analyze a lot of what you hear (recordings, concerts, elevators, TV & radio, anywhere, anytime), the better to steal, uh, learn from it; in any case, toss it on your musical compost heap to (switching metaphors now) slowly become part of your musical DNA. Another analogy: once, during my bluegrass guitar phase years ago I asked a pro player how he learned so many fiddle tunes. He simply said “One at a time.” Composing is like that. You just keep learning one thing at a time, and keep doing that over and over for a long time. Another analogy: like learning a language, including your native language. You can always learn more words, become better educated (history, sciences, current events, food, fashion, sports, games, music, literature, on and on), learn to craft felicitous phrases, no matter what you start out with. You can always improve, learn more, hone your craft, add depth to your knowledge and understanding of the world. It all supports your craft. All you need besides that is what we said earlier: the itch, the inspiration, the energy, the drive to put it to use.

What I’m getting at in this series of composition tips is this:

While it’s necessary and nice to continually gather knowledge and skills for your composition compost heap, you don’t have to (mixed metaphor alert) (re-)invent all the wheels yourself. You can learn from others. Sometimes a word or two at the right time will save you months, years. Sometimes you have to store the tip until you’re ready for it and then get it out. I am going to share some tips that I have gathered over time, some from experience, some learned from others. What I hope is that 1) someone out there can use them and 2) that you share your tips here. Or just as good: ask a question, share a problem. I will share my problems with you when they arise and hope that readers can share their insights and solutions to getting out of those delicious corners that composers paint themselves into. What I find most interesting are problems. Sports and games are interesting because they are nothing but organized problems that you enjoy trying to solve, sometimes by yourself, sometimes with others. What I would like to do in this space is to turn a single person sport – composing – into more of a team sport where we can help each other and share tips and tricks and problems and the joys of finding solutions. In spite of how schools tend to frame the study of composition (“One right answer. One way. One solution.”), we are part of something that has not one right answer but many, many answers, solutions.

It’s all compost.