Getting Started Composing: The Itch

The hardest part of composing is getting started. You need an idea and some kind of itch that you need to scratch, which can only be done by working out that idea and turning it into a composition. You can have a million ideas, but without the itch and the subsequent scratch, it don’t mean a thing, you won’t compose a thing.

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I think the first time I started try to write down music I was in the 6th (maybe 7th) grade. It wasn’t my music. It was from a commercial on TV that used Western film style music. It had a lot of French horns. I played horn. I wanted to play it or something like it – my first itch. So every time I heard it, I tried to remember it and write down a little more of it. I noodled a bit at the piano, trying to find the notes. Then I wrote down my guesses on manuscript paper (I don’t know where the music paper came from – must have been from my mom, who was once a violinist, but hadn’t played in year. I really can’t come up with any good reason why we had it, but there it was). It was very empowering, taking the invisible notes out of the air and committing them to something you could look at, lift, count. My effort was innocent of bar lines, time signatures, key signatures, and was no doubt mostly inaccurate, but I was tickled about it. I could play (sort of) the notes, with a certain amount of (read: a lot) fudging. Notation = power!

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