Composing is music slow-motion. I never approach the process the same way each time I sit down to write. Here are a few writing techniques I'm using for my compositions:
- Composing on Different Instruments | Often the timbre of an instrument will influence an idea. Even if I'm not fluent on a specific instrument, the challenge of limitation might suggest a new direction. Sometimes adding an effect on an instrument can invoke the role of a part within a song. It can be as simple as changing the sound on my keyboard to a voice I wouldn't normally use.
- Time Limit | I can sit in room and play with one idea for an hour and still accomplish nothing. So I recently starting setting a timer. I say to myself, "You have 10 minutes to finish this section." It doesn't mean I'll keep everything I wrote and I certainly can edit later, but being on the clock gets those neurons moving. I find that my first few instincts work well and I can expand on those when editing.
- Start with the End | Working backwards is one of my favorite and most challenging techniques. If I have some thoughts on how the piece ends, I can find multiple ways back to the beginning. Using rhythmic, melodic and/or harmonic motives from the ending will often suggest other sections of the song.
- What Does It Say? | If I'm stuck, I will ask the music what it wants to say. If I'm composing on a theme, I'll decide on short rhythmic, melodic & harmonic motives which will represent parts of the pieces concept. Those motives can expand to larger ideas or be shortened.
- Hear It | Having other musicians perform the piece in a rehearsal is a big weight lifted. It doesn't matter if I've written 30 secs, 16 bars of music, or asking them to play a certain harmonic cycle over a drum beat, hearing the music played is a huge rush me for! I will definitely make realizations about any changes needed; tempo, range of instruments, dynamics, length of sections, etc. It's that first glimpse of something coming to fruition. Plus, being open to suggestions and ideas from the musicians performing the song is important to me.
Remember that empty notebook of staff paper from the first post? That book is now filled random musical ideas, some making the cut into a piece and others ripped out crumbled on the floor. Below is a sneak peak into one of the two songs I'm working on.