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I have a question for the composers here.

I'm really getting into composition, and I have a composition teacher.

Now my way of composing is generally fiddling around on the piano and once I get some material that I like, I work it out with harmony, melodic development and all that until I get something that sounds good to me.

A common remark by my composition teacher is that I should "know why I'm composing" and should be able to explain why I do what I'm doing. With this he's aiming at the artistic side of music: the idea or concept or thought behind your creation.

Do you think it's really necessary to always have this conscious idea or concept in your mind while creating music, and if so, what are some tips to be more conscious of this part while composing? Currently I generally rely on emotional reactions when composing, rather than forming images in my head from what I'm composing

closed as primarily opinion-based by Dom Jul 27 at 20:50

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Inspiration, motivation, and direction can come from all sorts of angles - you might be applying certain technical principles that you think will get you a result you want; you might be following a process and seeing where it takes you, without having any particular end result in mind; you might be doing some random things to try to generate some unexpected output; you might start with a feeling or a thought (or, for that matter, a real-world object or a mathematical idea) and try to think how you could express it. Typically we do a little of many of those things when we're being creative; we may be able to explain some aspects of the process, but not all.

A common remark by my composition teacher is that I should "know why I'm composing" and should be able to explain why I do what I'm doing. ...

Do you think it's really necessary to always have this conscious idea or concept in your mind while creating music, and if so, what are some tips to be more conscious of this part while composing?

It's going to depend on the person, I guess. If someone's in a rich creative groove, churning out lots of great stuff, you might argue that then taking time to analyse what's going on might only be likely to be disruptive. On the other hand, having awareness of exactly what creative 'space' you are exploring might make it easier to get back there later.

If you feel you're in a 'rut', it's also possible that having some awareness of your process and sources of inspiration could help you make he leap to somewhere else. On the other hand, if you get used to only being able to think of music in certain terms, that might 'trap' you somewhere you don't want to be!

Ultimately, if you're happy with what you're creating, you don't have to do it differently.

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Not necessarily an extra-musical concept. One can have in mind thoughts like: "How can I hang sew a piece on to this motif or riff?" "How can I create a waltz or polka or mumbo or tango?" "How can I finish this song for the client before the rent's due?" "How can I write variations to this theme?"

Sometimes I do things like think, "I'll try to write a minor key waltz," then end up with a simple foxtrot in a major key having a similar theme.

  • I absolutely LOVE the 'How can I finish this song before the rent's due?' part of your answer. Yes indeed! – L3B Mar 3 '17 at 18:09
  • Your last paragraph is so true. What wants to come out must come out; those are usually the best ones. – Ed Plunkett Mar 4 '17 at 3:13
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Do you think it's really necessary to always have this conscious idea or concept in your mind while creating music?

It may or may not be necessary, but I have found it helpful. Even during the "brainstorming" phase.

For example, a few years ago I wanted to write a "happy" song (for lack of a better word). Having that goal in mind helped me in many ways. First, I consciously picked a key that to me seems happy (D major - we could argue all day long about whether any key is happy or even if there are happy keys whether D major is one, but it fits my process). Then, I put myself in a happy-ish mood and improvised and noodled around and generally brainstormed in D major.

To make a long story short ("Too late!"), the finished song that eventually came out of that process is a pretty happy sounding song. So having a plan or goal or focus in mind when working through a creative process can help a lot.

I think the word process is not emphasized enough above. When creating, there has to be something personal about the creation or else it's meaningless. One of the most personal things about creation is the process that you go through to create. No one can tell you what your process is. You have to develop and/or discover it yourself.

For me, I had to discover my process. I worked in different ways through trial and error and honestly evaluated my results, got feedback from others, and slowly figured out what creative acts in what order helps me create best.

It sounds like "knowing why" is an important part of your teacher's process. It may not figure into your best process as much as for him, but I agree with him (as I wrote above) that some aspect of focus, goal setting, etc. is likely to be valuable for any process, if not essential.

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There is an argument that 'art' is the sum of your technical ability and your personal 'taste' or to put it another way your own sense of when something is 'right' combined with your ability to get it right.

In this context it is a fair point that you should know why you are composing but on the other hand there is no particular 'why' which is correct or better.

this doesn't necessary mean that you have to have a really polished academic concept which underlies you work, especially at this early stage in your learning process but there is always a trap in any artistic discipline to do art just for the sake of being an 'artist', not that art for arts sake is bad in itself but (I think) you need to be trying to achieve something at any given point which goes beyond your own self-image as an artist/musician/composer.

This is not so much a case that it is an essential requirement that you can provide a nicely well rounded argument to other peopel as to why you are doing what you are doing but it's more a question you need to keep asking yourself and trying to explain it to other people can be helpful just form the perspective of clarifying your own ideas.

Also your own sense of this will change as you develop and learn.

Really this is about having some sense of a goal or objective rather than just going through the mechanical motions of acquiring a technical skill by rote.

There is often some tension between academic/technical discipline and your creative/inspirational drive. Ultimately it's about finding the balance that works for you.

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