The Empty Page

This story is embarrassing:

One of the first workshops I attended on music composition was with a celebrated musician/composer visiting the college I attended. As an 18-year-young Jazz Performance major, I had a page filled with what I thought were perfect questions. As I was eager to gather all his secrets, three minutes into the clinic my hand shot up. The naïve question I blurted out was, “How do you write a big band chart?” Without missing a beat, his response was, “You put the pen on the paper.” *palm slap to the forehead*

He certainly wasn’t meaning to be short or rude, but rather answering a much larger (and narrow) question with a trial and error response. It took me a few days to realize I need to “go for it!”

Empty Staves.jpg


The scariest, exhilarating, frustrating and most thrilling moment as a composer to me is the beginning. The empty page that sits in front me is the first of many steps when creating new works. Those first steps really start before sitting down with those vacant staves.


Unconsciously trying to create, I’m already taking in information surrounding me, including; music, the news, a conversation, a walk outside, the weather, meals, and so many other everyday activities. These activities then somewhat become categorized inside me as emotions. Happy, sad, angry, melancholy, and so forth. I can then further meditate on those emotions and create musical qualities relating to them.


With every new project, I like to experiment with my approach to the method. I often have a hundred 10-30 second audio clips on my phone of me (horribly) singing or clapping a short rhythm or melodic motive. The digital recording, which is never captured at the most convenient time, sometimes includes a verbal note of a time signature, instrument choice or effect ideas.

The audio clips always remind me of my location and action; cooking in the kitchen, walking the dogs or sleeping.

I never compose music the same way and it certainly doesn’t just flow out easily every time. I’ll explore some of my methods and techniques in my next blog post.

Let's Explore!

I look forward to sharing my ideas of inspiration, methods of creation and process of work throughout these blog posts. I hope you check back as I fill up the first of many empty pages.

Mark Feinman

Mark Feinman is a drummer, composer and educator who is inspired by individual human experiences and a diverse range of musical influences. He has extensive performance experience including jazz concerts, musical theater productions and big band performances at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy and Jazz a Juan in Juan Les Pins in France. Mark was awarded the Think Small to Think Big Grant, a Jazz on Edge 13 in 13 commission, and a Project GenYes! grant to present a multi-media project raising awareness for Alzheimer’s disease at The Studio@620. As the drummer for the Tampa Bay-based trio La Lucha, Mark has performed at TEDxTampa Bay (2014), TEDxUSF (2015) & TEDxDouglasville (2017). Mark received a B.M. in Jazz Performance at SUNY Purchase and an M.M. in Jazz Performance from the University of South Florida. He is a Drum Set Instructor at St. Petersburg College and the University of Tampa, and he's currently a board member of Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association, an organization focused on the preservation & education of Jazz in the Tampa Bay area.