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I'm striving to better my music composition skills, but I'd also like to improve my piano skills since I like it and I think I am not a very good practical musician. The problem is, though, that I can't find the time to practice everything I want. As a composer, I have to improve my "craftsmanship" skills (counterpoint, part writing, score analysis, harmony etc.) but I also have to compose to improve.

I'm doing a 9-5 job to support myself, and have around 3 hours of intensive practice time in the evenings. How would you guys divide your practice/composition time between all the areas to get the best results, when the goal is to become a better composer and all-around musician? Should I just ditch all instrument practice and concentrate 100% on composing?

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  • Asking how we would divide our time personally makes this question subjective. I am in exactly the same boat you are in with the addition that I’m saving every spare penny to return to school for a composition degree in 2022. One thing I highly recommend is finding cheap used instruments or renting instruments related to the genre(s) you want to compose in. If you want to compose for orchestra for example, you should get your hands on one each of woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion and take at least two months of lessons on each. Massively enlightening – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 at 4:14
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    Personally I can already easily write stuff I can’t play on any instrument, so as much as I work to keep up my musicianship, the exercise of composing and the study of composition is top priority. Also consider learning to conduct - even if you never do it, understanding what a conductor does teaches a lot about the process of taking music from pages to ears. If you @ me in a chat room I’d be happy to compare notes (haha) and talk about what I’m learning and hear about what you’re learning – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 at 4:16
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First it is admirable that you are dedicated to improving both your composing and musicianship skills, especially while working a full time job. There is no formula to how to divide up your practice. This question is fairly subjective and you will probably get different opinions on it BUT there is no doubt that it is beneficial to be somewhat proficient on an instrument, piano or guitar in particular if you want to compose. That way you can experiment with and hear harmony as well as melody. You did not mention what instrument you play.

Bottom line, work on both at a ratio you feel is most enjoyable and beneficial to you. No one can accurately tell you what is best for you. Try 1-1, 2-1, alternating days, see what feels good to you and allows you to enjoy the process, after all, you’re working during the day and this should be enjoyable for you as well as beneficial.

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    It's also worth noticing that practicing an instrument is good for the composition skills: it helps the "testing" part (playing your piece on your own, which might also make you realize if you really like what you've written - or even if it can be played at all), it can give you new ideas, and provides deeper means of analysis. That said, considering the day job, you must find on your own when your study is more effective and on what. You might be more productive on the instrument as soon as you're at home, or less productive on the composition if your head is still "on the other job". – musicamante Jan 10 at 18:28
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Having good piano skills is probably going to be the most important to you as a composer. The piano - whilst not a full orchestra - is the next best thing. Melody and harmony are both possible, not so on many other instruments.

So, while it's impossible for any of us to say this is the proportion to use on x, your expertise on piano will greatly enhance yur expertise as a composer. There's actually no need to be regimental about it. Just be aware that one will help the other. Go with the flow. If you feel that after a hard day at work you need to let the juices flow as a composer, so be it. Decide to beat the hell out of a piano - do it.

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