guitar

Getting Started II

Classical Guitar, front and side view. This im...

[continued from an earlier post]

Besides playing some instrument (any instrument), composing needs two things to happen: the itch to write something and something that needs something written for it (ok, I’ve used up a month’s supply of ‘somethings’).

When I was in army bands and grad school I was simply too busy practicing to compose anything, although I did do some transcriptions.

When I got my full-time orchestra job, I suddenly had every afternoon free. What a concept. The first thing I did was read. Books books books. I hadn’t read anything that wasn’t assigned in years, and I attacked this deficit like a ravenous wolf (assuming hungry wolves like to read), up to four books a week. The other thing I did was go back to guitar. I had played a great amount of guitar in high school and college, but not at all in the army or grad school. So I got a classical guitar and started working on classical again. I even taught classical guitar to kids (classes of 4 – the school’s choice, not mine) for a couple years on the side, which turned out to be tougher and less fun that I thought it would (lessons were 40 minutes, and it took about 20 of those to get the guitars tuned).

I moved to steel string guitar and bluegrass. I discovered a young American guitarist in town (living with his Swiss girlfriend) and we started playing together. We formed a folk/swing picking/singing duo that even had a couple of minor gigs here and there. I think we were together a year or two; not long, but it was an important transitional time: I started composing. I wrote pieces for guitar and mandolin (which I started playing on the side). I wrote a song with lyrics for us to sing (“Sooner the Better”). We usually had picking solos in the middle of our pieces, so I started writing out solos that sounded improvised (since I did not yet improvise). It was time to learn to improvise. I had contracted the itch to improvise. So I got an electric guitar (Gibson ES347), a sexy semi-hollow body and started taking lessons with a couple of jazz guitarists in the area (funny: I learned my classical in the states and my jazz in Europe).

And then, mirabile dictu, came Max.

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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.

More Wild West

(Photo credit: Pulse3)

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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