Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Thoughts on Composing Music

My journey as a hobby composer
In this post I will write about the very core of my second user on Youtube (www.youtube.com/user/MusicLoverOriginals): composing music. Music has always been a great part of my life. I've played both the trombone and the piano for several years, and I additionnaly love to sing. I am not sure exactly what sparked my interest for composing music. I have always had a desire within me to create something - if I have spare-time I often get an urge to just make a tune on the piano or shoot some scenes for a short film, or something similar. I want to contribute to the world of the creativity.

What I do know though is that I one day in April, 2011, sat down with my keyboard and thought: "Let's come up with a horror tune. Let's just play two chords I never play in a sequence". And I did. I played the Bm (which actually is called Hm in Norwegian - random trivial fact of the day), followed by Bbm - two chords I never had played together before (at least as I could remember). I recorded on my keyboard a random improvisation with the two chords, and voilĂ . The result? My most famous video on my music channels on Youtube of all times:

After receiving good feedback on the composition for over a year, I got inspired to compose more music and I therefore created a new channel dedicated to my original compositions only. From there on I've continued to compose/improvise (mostly improvising - I get too frustrated if I work on the same piece over a longer period - my patience could have been better) and upload videos to my channel. 

Composing and aspects of inspiration
One of the most irritating things that can happen to oneself, is the musician's equivalence of writer's block. When you sit in front of your keyboard and so deeply want to come up with something, but everything you try seems dull and cliché. Even though this can make you scream of anger, tear your hair, create scratch marks on the table with your nails (okay, maybe not that dramatic, but almost), these moments are natural in all kind of areas of creativity and work. There's no point, in my opininon, in trying desperately to come up with something when you are not inspired. Inspired I say. So how do you get inspired? Well, there's no correct answer to this - that's obviously highly subjective. I will therefore not mention what others do - I don't know either - but simply tell you about how I get inspired to create music.

1. Picturing an object, location, animal, landscape etc.
When I compose music, I find it to be much easier if I have something to relate it to. An example of this can be a picture in my head, for instance a raging storm or a quiet day in the forest. For me this works as giant source of inspiration, considering the fact that ideas seem to show up a lot easier for me. An example of this can be my newest original composition for solo piano: 

This compositon started with the idea: "I want to create a sad, emotional and flowing piano piece". I didn't want the composition to be too slow - I wanted some movement. I therefore pictured a flowing river in my head when I came up with the first right-hand "runs" (Gm, Dm etc.). Although quite few people actually would  think of that as a river (I think, but I am not sure - tell me what you think), I think the melody turned out to be nice and memorable. With other words: while picturing a flowing river I found a melody I was happy with, regardless of the resemblance to an actual river or not.

2. Trying to express a certain emotion, mood, feeling or atmosphere
 Another great way to get inspired (works for me at least), is moving from the concrete world of picturing objects etc. as described in 1., to the more abstract world of feelings and emotions. Instead of picturing a forest or children playing, you can instead try to think about more abstract and general feelings and emotions. This can for instance be tranquility, joyfullness or anger. For me, this is quite important to decide before I record an improvisation/composition. Do I want the composition to be relaxing? Sad? Hopeful? Playful? That way I know what I want with the piece and how I want the piece to progress. But of course: I wouldn't lock myself totally to this - spontaneity should  not be restrained. If you suddenly feel very angry while you play, let yourself loose. Here's an example of a song composed with the mood and atmosphere in mind:

In this composition I hadn't anything planned, except that I wanted to convey fear and anxiety through the music. I wanted it to be a suspenseful and creepy track. This was what I ended up with. 

 3. Trying to convey a story with the music
The last thing I like to do (but I have only done it once among the uploaded compositions), is to actually create a story and make music to it. Alternatively you can base your original composition on a story you've read or written. The best example I have of this, is my original compositon entitled "Reflections". A few years ago I wrote a short story (for a Norwegian mock exam) about a prisoner sentenced to death, and his reflections and thoughts regarding life. I wanted to compose a piece that corresponded to the short story, so I actually had the short story in front of me while I improvised on the piano. As I played, I then pictured the different scenes in the short story and the main protagonist's thoughts. The result became this: 

To finish off
Just to clear things up here. I do not by any means claim to be a professional composer, not even remotely, but I take great pleasure in composing music, learning others' techniques, and broaden my horizon regarding the theme. So, please, do take my post with a pinch of salt - this is just my humble opinions and thoughts on the subject. And please, do not hesitate commenting on it if you have any thoughts on what I've written, composing in general or anything to say. 

I've got a lot to learn.

Take care,